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Martin Rooney wants Surrey to fly the Pride flag at city hall

Activist running as independent candidate for Surrey city council

Martin Rooney says the City of Surrey’s refusal to fly the Pride flag prompted him to run for city council this year.  Credit: Courtesy of Martin Rooney/Haris Hafeez Khan

Martin Rooney, an independent candidate for Surrey city council, says he takes as much pride in his city as he does in his LBGT activism.

But, he says, it’s time for the city to continue moving forward and embrace the growing city’s diversity. He’d like the City of Surrey to fly the rainbow flag over city hall during Pride Week and to have a greater civic involvement in Surrey’s Pride festival.

Rooney has lived in Surrey for the past 18 years with his partner, Rob, with whom he founded Out in Surrey, which hosted the first LGBT dance in the Vancouver suburb in 1998 to support the Bigots Banned Books Defence Fund, in response to the Surrey school board’s decision to ban three gay-friendly books from its classrooms.

Rooney later helped found the Imperial Sovereign Court of Surrey and the Red Ribbons 4 Life fundraiser for HIV/AIDS; earlier this year he was awarded a Pride Legacy Award for his work raising awareness and promoting health around HIV.

Rooney says he lobbied the City of Surrey to fly the Pride flag during Pride Week this year, but the city refused. City councillors told Xtra in July that Surrey follows official flag protocol, which states that only three flags be flown at city hall: the Canadian, the provincial flag of BC and the city’s flag. With only three flagpoles outside the newly constructed city hall, there’s no space for community flags, they say.

“We did not vote against flying the Pride flag. That’s been misreported a number of times,” Acting Mayor Judy Villeneuve told Xtra at this summer’s Pride festival in Surrey. “We did a lot of research on flag policy and what has been our policy . . . But I appreciate the Pride organizers bringing to our attention the fact that different communities would like to have a flagpole actually outside city hall. We’ll move in that direction. It would be lovely to have a community pole.”

Rooney says the City of Surrey flew an Olympic flag for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. “In my opinion, the Pride flag is as big a symbol of diversity as the Olympic flag,” he says. He says the refusal to fly the Pride flag prompted him to run for city council. “I have been a community advocate for 25 years in the West Coast community,” he tells Xtra.

As a resident of Whalley for the past 15 years, Rooney says he’s seen Surrey grow dramatically but without a corresponding growth in resources for marginalized communities. He says that has begun to manifest itself in housing, homelessness and transportation issues.

He says the city also needs to work with the school board to help the queer community. “It’s time to embrace the diversity policy that was put in place in the school district and work against bullying,” he says.

If the city wants to take advantage of attracting gay events to the city, it needs to work with gay-owned businesses to create a climate of diversity, he suggests. He would also like to see the city donate more than $1,000 to Pride and dovetail with the cultural Fusion Festival to create resource sharing between the two events.