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Alberton controversy dampens rainbow rally

Rory Starkman of the P.E.I. Transgender Network, left, Kandace Hagen, Andy Glydon of Pride P.E.I.  and Kels Smith were in Summerside for the flag raising in honour of the International day against homophobia, transphobia and biphobia and the 50th anniversary of the partial de-criminalization of homosexuality.
From left, Rory Starkman of the P.E.I. Transgender Network, Kandace Hagen and Andy Glydon of Pride P.E.I. and Kels Smith were in Summerside for the flag-raising in honour of the International day against homophobia, transphobia and biphobia and the 50th anniversary of the partial de-criminalization of homosexuality. - Alison Jenkins

Pride flags raised in Summerside, Charlottetown, but LGBTQ+ advocates criticize ‘veiled discrimination’

In the midst of the controversy surrounding the decision by Alberton town council to not fly the pride flag, the rainbow colours were raised above city halls in Summerside and Charlottetown on Friday.

Both cities raised the flag on the occasion of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.

In Summerside, Mayor Basil Stewart hoisted the rainbow above Summerside city hall at noon.

“We want to wish you all the best. We’re very open-minded here in this city,” said Stewart.

There were more than 30 people at the ceremony, despite the chilly winds.

“There’s never been a crowd this big here and I’ve been going since 2000,” said one man.

He referred to himself as “an old trans guy.” He said usually the flag raisings have been during Pride Week in the past, not in May. He feels the awareness and support for the LGBT community is growing.

Inclusion matters

For several of the people who attended the Charlottetown event, the Alberton council decision cast a shadow.

Daniel Boudreau, chair of Pflag Canada P.E.I., said he believed the unanimous vote in Alberton was discriminatory.

"There were a lot of excuses that were given that were veiled discrimination," Boudreau said.

"It's a matter of 'we don't want to deal with it.' But we are here. We're not going away.”

Boudreau said many LGBTQ+ youth in rural towns in P.E.I. often experience homophobia and transphobia. Many feel they don’t belong in these communities.

Rory Starkman and Kandace Hagen were upset by Alberton council decision as well.

They volunteer at a PEERS drop-in group for youth in Charlottetown. Youth from Alberton and Summerside travel down to find community.  

“It’s really difficult for queer folks on the Island to be visible in particular, because we’re such a small community and it tends to be such a conservative community,” said Starkman, who spoke on behalf of the P.E.I. Transgender Network in Summerside Friday.

Kandace Hagen, left, with pup Ellie Mae, Rory Starkman and Kels Smith examine a flag representing every member of the 2SLGBTQIA+ acronym outside Summerside City Hall on May 17.
Kandace Hagen, left, with pup Ellie Mae, Rory Starkman and Kels Smith examine a flag representing every member of the 2SLGBTQIA+ acronym outside Summerside City Hall on May 17.

But Alberton Mayor David Gordon insisted the decision not to raise the pride flag was based upon a lack of clear policy from the town related to flags.

"Trust us, we have nothing against these people," Gordon said.

"If you open it up to one, you open it up to everyone."

Gordon said the three flag poles in front of Alberton’s Town Hall were reserved for the Canadian, P.E.I., and Alberton flags.

"Whether you're gay or lesbian or whatever, those flags still represent you to come into our community," Gordon said.

Gordon said the town had also declined requests from other groups to fly flags in the past. He also said he had received “hate-mail” messages on Facebook.

Summerside councillor Justin Doiron’s reaction to Alberton’s decision was concise.

“It’s 2019,” he said. Gathering his thoughts, he continued, “Their reasoning is theirs, however dated it might be.”

He said people look to the city for leadership and wants to be welcoming.

“If raising a flag, in its simplicity, can convey the message that we, as a city, are supportive, it’s the least we can do. But there’s certainly more we can do as a community,” said Doiron.

Michelle Arsenault, who lives near Alberton, has begun handing out pride flags to her friends and family. Since Monday’s council meeting, she said town residents have begun planting pride flags in front of the town’s welcome sign and at the local United Church.

"A lot of people who support raising the flag kind of went out and bought out the dollar stores for pride flags," Arsenault said.

She added that she believed Gordon and his colleagues on council were kind people.

A manager at the Alberton Great Canadian Dollar Store confirmed that the store had sold out of large sized pride flags and had seen increased sales in smaller flags.

newsroom@journalpioneer.com

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