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Gay groups rally in Nova Scotia against flag policies

Groups hope to foster government support


Gay rights groups rallied in Pictou County, Nova Scotia on May 17, to speak out against the recent decisions by some rural counties to ban rainbow flags on government flagpoles.

But rather than fighting the counties, gay groups have adopted a new positive strategy: reach out to the local governments and ask them to confirm their commitment to diversity.

Four local governments in Nova Scotia, including Pictou, have adopted government-flags-only policies in the past year, after Truro town council rejected a request to fly a rainbow flag in Aug 2007.

Kevin Kindred of the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project attended the May 17 rally. He says that communities can benefit from a commitment to inclusiveness and to welcoming differences among citizens.

“Local governments have always celebrated community groups and events by flying flags, whether in support of cancer research, amateur sports or diversity events like Pride or Black History Month,” he says. “Ending that practice just to avoid dealing with the rainbow flag — that hurts communities and shows an incredible failure of leadership.”

Ramona Westgate, one of the rally’s organizers and chair of Pride of Pictou County, says she was very pleased by the support and the enthusiasm of the rally.

About a dozen local politicians — mayors, councillors and MLAs — took the opportunity to assure Pride groups of a warm welcome in their communities. Other speakers included Denise Holliday of Maritime Transgender Workplace Solutions, Jane Morgan of Pictou County Pride, and David Parker, the Pictou County councillor who has been an outspoken critic of that council’s no flag decision.

Following the speeches, a huge rainbow banner was carried by the participants — led by a police car — to the office of the Pictou County council where it was unfurled in front of the building. The march may have only been two blocks long, but it was a hugely symbolic act.

After the march, an informal town-hall-style meeting was held in which community groups coordinated on how to fight the flag policies.

Hugo Dann, chair of Halifax Pride, was at the rally and he says the county decisions are behind-the-times.

“These recent ‘no flag’ policies take me back to the very first Halifax Pride event, 20 years ago, when some of the marchers wore paper bags over their head to hide their identities for fear of repercussions from employers and others,” he says. “Some of these councils would like us still to be hiding our faces. They say they’re not against gays but their actions show they’d rather not see us.”

The Pictou rally was held on International Day Against Homophobia, to highlight the link between fighting discrimination and recognizing Pride celebrations.

Organizers of the Pictou rally want to make sure the current campaign is very positive in tone, one that will invite local governments to adopt policies celebrating their continued commitment to diversity, and to give them a chance to state publicly that they stand with the gay community.