Duncan Mayor Michelle Staples said she feels a lot of work has been done to raise awareness and support for the LGBTQ2+ community in the Cowichan Valley over recent years.
But, speaking at the raising of the pride flag at Duncan City Hall on May 13, Staples said a lot of work still has to be done.
“The first time we raised the pride flag at city hall just a few years ago, there was just about eight people here, but looking at the large crowd gathered here today, I know we have come a long way in a short time,” she said in front of the approximately 80 people who gathered for the flag raising.
“I hope the next time we gather for the flag raising, the street will be full of people. But I remember a pride parade that was held in the community recently in which one of those who attended had a bottle thrown at him after leaving the event. It’s clear that we still have a long way to go.”
May 14 marked the 50th anniversary of when Canada decriminalized homosexual acts between consenting adults with the passage of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, and Monday was the official launch of NPO Grand Canadian Events’ and Canada Heritage’s “Standing By Our Colours” project in recognition of the anniversary.
In order to mark both the anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality in Canada on May 14 and the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia on May 17, the project aims to have 50 flag raisings across Canada over those days.
Duncan was one of eight cities in B.C. raising the pride flag as part of the project.
North Cowichan city hall also hoisted the pride flag for the first time on May 14 and the Cowichan Valley School District intends to raise the flag once the district installs its flag pole.
The towns of Ladysmith and Lake Cowichan are also expected to follow suit when they decide at their next council meetings.
Lake Cowichan councillor Lorna Vomacka said the long struggle for awareness and respect for the LGBTQ2+ community has been a personal one for her.
Vomacka said in a choked and emotional voice that she clearly recalls that when her son told her a number of years ago he was gay, he was afraid the family would kick him out of the house.
“I’ve often heard about gay beatings on the mainland and when my son went to live there, and I wanted so much just to phone him and make sure he was safe,” she said.
“My daughter also came to me since then and told me she was in love with a transgendered man. She said that she doesn’t see gender when she looks at him, she sees the person she’s in love with. Everyone has the right to live their lives to the fullest and not live them according to the opinions of others. I stand here to raise this flag with you with pride.”
Vomacka’s daughter Ashley is a member of Cowichan Pride, sponsor of the flag-raising event in Duncan.
She said that as long as one person faces discrimination for their sexuality, there is work to be done.
“I ask you to say ‘no’ to hate and not just be a bystander,” she said to the gathered crowd.
North Cowichan councillor Rosalie Sawrie said this year marks the 50th anniversary for her not to be considered a criminal for going home everyday to her long-time partner Jen.
“Many people are still being harassed and discriminated against, so I’m proud to live in a community where I can be who I am,” she said.
“When I was in high school, I was not so confident, and many youths are still saying they don’t feel safe in their homes and communities. I share the gratitude of all who can live their lives true to who they are with no fear of being judged.”
United Church ministers Keith Simmonds and Katherine Brittain were also at the flag raising to show their support.
“My oldest son is gay and is slowly finding a place in a world that is safer for him,” Simmonds said.
“He is openly welcomed and celebrated as a gift to the world and because you are here today, this community knows they are loved as creatures of God. As the world slowly changes, maybe even the rest of Christianity can catch up.”