Alberta | Town of Westlock bans Pride flag from public spaces

(Westlock) Mayor Jon Kramer says he spent weeks telling residents of Westlock, Alta., not to vote for a bylaw banning Pride flags and rainbow crosswalks on streets municipal properties.

A slim majority in the city north of Edmonton voted Thursday to only fly government flags and paint crosswalks with a white striped pattern.

“As a council, we are deeply disappointed, but we are not discouraged,” Mr. Kramer said in an interview Friday.

“I firmly believe that Westlock is a kind and caring community. But you know, the bottom line is proof that change is incredibly difficult for some people. »

There were 1,302 votes cast during the plebiscite: 663 for and 639 against.

Mayor Kramer said the city of 4,800 will continue to find ways to welcome marginalized groups, including those in the LGBTQ community.

He spoke with members of the local gay-straight alliance to brainstorm ideas, he said. The group painted the city’s first Pride crosswalk last year.

“It was difficult for them because they did everything right to get this crosswalk approved. »

Last year, a group presented a petition to council demanding neutrality in public spaces after the crosswalk was painted.

The petition was submitted to council, and councilors were given the choice of adopting the bylaw or referring it to a plebiscite. They decided that residents should vote on it.

That decision cannot be overturned by the council unless a future plebiscite is held calling for the ban to be overturned, Kramer said.

The Westlock Neutrality Team, a group behind the petition, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Kristopher Wells, Canada Research Chair in Public Understanding of Sexual and Gender Minority Youth, said he was disappointed by these results.

He admitted to being worried about the young people who helped paint the crosswalk.

“The people who voted to remove this crosswalk don’t realize that this does not mean the removal of LGBTQ people in their community,” lamented Mr. Wells. In some ways, this will only strengthen the resolve of the community and the city council to increase their support. »

Kristopher Wells recalled that there is an anti-LGBTQ movement across Canada, pointing to governments that have recently adopted policies affecting transgender people.

Alberta’s United Conservative Party government says it plans to introduce plans in the fall requiring parental consent when students aged 15 and under want to change their name or pronouns at school. Students aged 16 and 17 would not need consent, but their parents would need to be informed.

The province also plans to restrict gender-affirming treatments, teaching about gender and sexuality in schools and the participation of transgender women in sports.

Similarly, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick have established rules that prevent children under 16 from changing their name or pronoun at school without their parents’ consent.

“It is the 2SLGBTQ community that is in the crosshairs of hatred and prejudice,” insisted Mr. Wells.

Janis Irwin, Alberta NDP opposition critic for LGBTQ issues, expressed support for those affected by the vote in Westlock.

“The fight for a safe and inclusive Alberta continues. We cannot go back. We will not do it,” wrote Mme Irwin on the social media platform

Jon Kramer said he always saw rainbow crosswalks as a way to bring people together, even though some in Westlock saw them as a way to divide the community.

“There are difficult conversations, there is reluctance, there is a certain frustration. But when we know that we are on the right track, we do not hesitate,” he thundered.

Mayor Kramer noted that Westlock has found ways to include people, such as adding ramps for people in wheelchairs and building an accessible playground. There is also a new Filipino story time at the library, he added.

“We’re in a place where we can’t put up crosswalks or flags. But inclusion is a profoundly creative act. So, ultimately, we’re not out of options. »

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