By Trevor Busch
Town council has declined to revisit a recent flag decision regarding the Taber Equality Alliance’s Pride 2018 celebration after receiving a request from the W.R. Myers Gender Sexuality Alliance.
Correspondence had been received on Feb. 27 from the Alliance (WRMGSA) requesting that council revisit its decision to deny the Taber Equality Alliance (TEA) request to fly a Pride flag during their second annual Pride celebrations in June 2018. The WRMGSA is a student body group committed to ensuring an accepting and safe place for students who identify as LGBTQ+.
“The Pride flag symbolizes different things for each of us, however the main symbol that it holds is that of acceptance,” reads a statement in the letter that was presented to council at their March 12 regular meeting. “By refusing to raise the flag, this tells the LGBTQ+ community that we are not accepted in Taber.”
On Jan. 22, council voted 5-1 to deny the request from the TEA to fly a Pride flag on the Community Flag Pole located in Confederation Park in June. Council then went a step further and passed a motion for administration to remove the “Community Flag Pole” designation, effectively removing the ability for any groups to fly any flags from the pole. Instead, only municipal, provincial or federal flags, or those of visiting dignitaries will be allowed from town-owned flag poles.
“There was a press release issued.” said Coun. Garth Bekkering on March 12. “Council made a decision regarding this issue, and the bottom of the press release says, ‘no further comments will be issued by the Town of Taber on this matter.’ I suggest we send a letter thanking them for their letter, and put a copy of the press release in there and deal with it that way.”
In the background information provided by administration, it was pointed out that council’s decision did not prohibit the flying of a Pride flag on town property (only with regard to the Confederation Park flag pole) and that the town does not designate any days, weeks or months in recognition of any causes “which would not pertain or be reflective of all community members” with the exception of Senior’s Week.
It was also noted by administration that the Canadian flag, Alberta flag, and Town of Taber flag “all pertain to Taber residents in an equal fashion, so no perception of favouritism could be interpreted by any specific group.”
“I’d like to thank the W.R. Myers Gender Sexuality Alliance for their letter, I thought it was very articulate, thoughtful and insightful, especially considering it’s from kids,” said Coun. Carly Firth, who represented the only opposing vote in council’s Jan. 22 decision. “They spoke very articulately, much more so than some adults I’ve discussed this issue with.”
TEA’s inaugural celebrations were marred by hate in June 2017 with the theft and defacement of the group’s original flag, followed days later by the burning of a second flag.
In a criticism largely missed by mainstream media in the wake of council’s decision, the WRMGSA argued that by declining to allow a Pride flag to be raised in 2018 the town was in effect sending a troubling message that the acts of a few prejudiced individuals can be successful in influencing policy at the highest levels in the community.
“The members of our W.R. Myers Gender Sexuality Alliance are all quite disappointed in the decision,” said the WRMGSA in their letter. “We feel that it will do more harm than good to the citizens of our town. By deciding not to fly the flag, it shows us that the Taber council is allowing the homophobic individuals that destroyed the flag last summer to win.”
“We understand that the reason is most likely to protect the town and community alike from any more destruction to the flag and property,” the letter continues. “However, it shows that the perpetrators of the hate crime last summer have come out victorious. As well, it sends the message that Taber will stay compliant and submissive when hate is displayed.”
In something of a departure from the town’s more matter-of-fact press release over the issue on Jan. 31, it was also indicated that “council anticipates many Pride flags being flown at the Pride Event and welcomes this recognition and celebration of diversity” and that “council members who are available on the date of the celebration will be attending all or part of the event.”
“I happen to agree wholeheartedly with Councillor Bekkering on this,” said Coun. Louie Tams. “If we’re going to issue press releases, this is one to stand on.”
After province-wide controversy erupted over council’s decision in early 2018, Infrastructure Minister Sandra Jansen stepped into the fray announcing over Twitter that the province would be happy to accommodate TEA’s request in June on their own flag pole in front of the Provincial Building in Taber.
“Council is grateful the province is assisting in the celebration by committing to fly the Pride flag at their building in Taber,” reads a statement in administration’s background information.
Following discussion, council voted unanimously to send a letter of reply signed by Mayor Andrew Prokop thanking the WRMGSA for their concerns and enclosing a copy of the town’s Jan. 31 press release stating there would be no further comment by the town with regard to the decision.
“I agree with Councillor Bekkering. When you say something in a press release I think we need to stick with that so that we have credibility,” said Coun. Mark Garner. “When we say there won’t be any further comment, then I think we need to stand by what we say. Otherwise I think we open ourselves up to lots of discussion on lots of different topics.”