Poe Liberado was angered and saddened by the choice of the three speakers at Hamilton’s annual Pride flag raising on June 14, 2015 — all white, cisgender people, according to Liberado.
Liberado, who uses the gender-neutral pronouns ze and zir, has organized several events for Hamilton Pride this year. Ze tells Daily Xtra that there was no acknowledgement of the work that people of colour or trans people have been doing in the city, nor any speakers from either group. There was also no mention of the many upcoming Hamilton Pride events specifically geared at celebrating the trans community.
“There’s a lot of talent; there’s a lot of great people doing great things,” Liberado says. “But it’s always the same few people who get platforms.”
Now, the LGBTQ Advisory Committee for the City of Hamilton, which organized the flag raising, is apologizing for its choice of speakers at the event, which it admits did not properly represent the diversity of Hamilton’s LGBT community.
Both Marlon Picken and Chris Erl, current members of the committee, apologized for the lack of diversity at the flag raising. The speakers at the event were Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger; Aidan Johnson, the city’s first ever openly gay city councillor; and Deirdre Pike, an activist who, according to Picken, is doing work with Pride House this year.
“There’s no excuse, right?” Picken says. “It was not well represented — the flag raising — and had I known that there were folks that wanted to participate, they would have been welcome as they have any of the other years that we have held this event.”
Liberado had spoke at last year’s flag raising. Liberado says ze had also provided the advisory committee with a list of volunteer speakers for the event who represent the diversity of Hamilton’s LGBT community. It was, as far as Liberado knows, not used.
Erl says he believes that list was raised at an informal meeting, but that there was nothing formally brought forward to the committee.
According to both committee members, the ranks of the group have been depleted since its inception over four years ago (committee terms coincide with the terms of mayor and council).
After starting with 15 members, there are now only three active members in the group, according to Picken and Erl.
Picken says that the group, which is made up of citizens, has struggled in the past to ensure that their own ranks are diverse.
Last year, the committee, along with several other equity groups, fought back against an attempt to merge them all into a single committee.
As well, Erl says that the date of the event was moved to earlier in the year than it normally is.
“We normally do our due diligence when it comes to ensuring that all of the diverse members of Hamilton’s LGBTQ community are represented,” Erl says, noting that the new time restraints and the fight to keep the committee existing meant that they did not do due diligence.
They have since heard the concerns from the community and from former committee members.
Picken responded on Liberado’s Facebook page, where the activist outlined grievances with the flag-raising event, saying that there was no conscious effort to exclude people. Liberado was also invited to join the committee.
“I don’t want an invitation to do more free work,” Liberado says. “I just want people who are doing this work to be acknowledged.”
Erl offered to resign and apologized on social media. “I purposely got involved in the committee because when I was growing up in Hamilton’s suburbs . . . I felt isolated and alone,” he says. “I thought that if any of my inaction on the committee, because of the constraints that we had, in terms of time and in terms of resources, had caused someone else to feel that, then I certainly couldn’t live with that.”
Liberado tells Daily Xtra that the committee should apologize and explain why and how the speakers at the flag raising were chosen.
“Our Pride matters too,” Liberado says. “It seems only relevant when white cisgender people are hosting things and there is a party attached to it.”