Quesnel showed it certainly has Pride in its community.
A full house (and then some) attended the March 7 public meeting of mayor and council. The city’s Pride Society (QPS) was formally on the agenda for a presentation, and the gallery overflowed to show support for what spokespeople Julia Dillabough and Alison Prentice had to say.
Their request to address council came shortly after Quesnel’s downtown was bestrewn with flyers denouncing the scheduled appearance this summer of a prominent drag performer. It urged the public to send emails of protest to the city’s councillors.
Incited Pride supporters turned those tables and took it up a level by arranging the presentation to denounce the denunciation and suggest city council consider an updated anti-hate policy.
Prentice, president of QPS, explained how high the stakes are for finally reaching full acceptance and unfettered inclusion of LGBTQ+ people in local society as well as across national culture. Her own son, when he was 24, disclosed to his family that he was in fact gay. He was vehemently disowned by his biological father, and with dashed hopes among many other powerful emotions, the young man soon after took his own life.
“I don’t think many people fully understand. The level of hatred the LGBTQ community is facing is historically significant, the worst many of us have seen in our lifetimes,” Prentice said, and quoted the mission statement of the Quesnel Pride Society: “We won’t stop until every queer child, youth and adult feels safe in our community.”
QPS vice-president Dillabough explained that hate speech (which is different and more inciteful than merely uncouth language or rudeness) needed to be opposed at every instance, or safety erodes. Great strides have been made in Canadian and Cariboo society to understand sexual orientation and protect those in minority communities, but history is fresh of violence being perpetrated on LGBTQ+ people simply and only because of their sexual realities.
Hate speech, said Dillabough, is expressed in a public way/place, it targets a person or group with a protected characteristic such as ethnicity, religious affiliation, or sexual orientation. It uses extreme language that encourages detestation or vilification of a person or group. It often uses techniques to dehumanize the targeted person by suggesting them to be animal-like, sub-human, or genetically inferior. Another technique is to portray the person as part of a conspiracy or secret plot to undermine civil society. Denying or minimizing past persecutions or tragedies from the person’s community background is yet another. Another is suggesting that negative events or unwanted political or social trends are the fault of the targeted group, or suggesting they are of a criminal nature, especially towards children.
What the QPS and their supporters hoped for from council, said Prentice and Dillabough, was to promise to maintain the symbolically important rainbow crosswalk, flying the Pride flag on the community flagpole during Pride month, continue enabling the Quesnel Pride Society’s events, and a couple of other key desires.
“In light of the recent events in the city, where a queer individual was targeted and defamed (via the offensive flyers), we respectfully request that council pass a motion condemning hate speech in all its forms, and that the city’s bylaw enforcement officers receive training to recognize hate speech, and be equipped to assist our society and others to remove posters, flyers, and other displays of hate speech anywhere it is posted in the city.”
The councillors acted fast.
“I must say, the significance, and the importance, and the urgency of your message is abundantly evident, with a full gallery here tonight,” said mayor Ron Paull, who quipped that he wished such crowds would show up for budget discussions.
Paull suggested referring the training component to the Policy & Bylaw Committee for their input on how to conduct such training, but that perhaps more at City Hall then just the officers might benefit from such knowledge.
He then facilitated a motion enshrining all their other points in town law. The motion passed unanimously followed by a long, loud ovation from the loaded gallery.