BOOTH: Pride flag flap reveals flaws in Surrey policies

In arguably the best Seinfeld episode ever, tens of millions of people across the world were introduced to a bold new cultural custom: Festivus.

At the centre of this annual alternative/protest to the commercialization of Christmas is an aluminum pole erected in the middle of the living room of your house. The motto of the holiday, "a Festivus for the rest of us," makes it an allinclusive holiday regardless of one’s race, religion, gender identity, socio-economic background or favourite NHL team.

With this in mind, I humbly suggest the City of Surrey adopt the spirit of this holiday by erecting a Festivus pole of its own.

The difference here would be that the pole is placed outdoors for everybody to see. Tack on a couple of pulleys and a long lanyard and there you have it: voila – Surrey’s Festivus Flagpole.

The necessity for such a landmark became apparent in recent weeks when

Surrey city council rejected an appeal by the Surrey Pride Festival to fly the gay flag to honour the group’s annual party/celebration.

Other municipalities in the Lower Mainland have flown the rainbow-striped banner emblematic of the gay community to honour gay pride festivals in their communities. More recently, several cities flew the flag during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games to protest the oppressive laws against homosexuality enacted by that event’s host nation, Russia.

According to Martin Rooney, a former board member of the Surrey Pride Society, the city’s refusal to fly the gay pride banner can only be seen as a negative.

"It’s 2014, and basically the hope of flying the flag is to tell everybody in Surrey that everyone is welcome," Rooney told Surrey Now reporter Kristi Alexandra last month.

Surrey city councillors don’t see it quite the same way. They say the issue isn’t that they don’t want to haul the gay pride banner up the flagpole, they simply can’t. It turns out city regulations and flag policy handcuffed their desire to show the city’s pride – or so they would have us believe.

According to Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts, Surrey has three flagpoles at city hall and they are each dedicated to specific pennants – Canada, British Columbia and Surrey.

One exception to this rule came during the 2010 Winter Olympics when the Olympic flag flew underneath the city banner on the pole dedicated to the Surrey flag.

Watts explained that because Surrey was a training venue and celebration site for the Games, an exception was made to the rules.

Um, excuse me if I’ve missed something here, but isn’t Surrey Pride Week a celebration that takes place in the city as well?

I don’t have a dog in this fight – aside from paying taxes to the city – but what is the big deal here? The city makes annual pronouncements declaring Surrey Pride Week, but won’t take the step of showing its support outwardly by flying a rainbowhued banner outside City Hall? Sounds like kind of a, ahem, closeted approach, doesn’t it?

Which brings us back to the Festivus Pole. The city has three flagpoles dedicated to honouring the three levels of government in this country, why not add a fourth flagpole – a Festivus Pole for the rest of us?

Watts rejects the need for a fourth flagpole, citing a nonsensical cost of $200,000 for the city to make such a pole a reality. I’m not sure where this number comes from, but clearly the city doesn’t source its flagpoles from anywhere on this planet.

A quick check of the Internet shows that Home Depot sells a 20-foot flagpole for just $102. That is no doubt a residential model and would not stand up to the rigours demanded of a pole dedicated to ceremonial use. Further checking shows (a Coquitlam company) offering 35-foot aluminum flagpoles – aluminum! What could be better for a Festivus pole? – for a very reasonable $2,374. Perfect. Then when you add in the city engineering reports, consultation with Feng Shui experts, site planning, landscaping, numerous community forums to discuss the project plus labour and ancillary costs, the whole project will come in at a tidy $198,000 tops.

There you go – I just saved Surrey taxpayers $2,000. You’re welcome.

The reality is a fourth flagpole dedicated to the community would be a welcome addition at city hall. Rarely a week goes by where the mayor and council are not signing a proclamation of some sort to honour groups within the community. Heart and Stroke Month; Boy Scouts and Girl Guides Week; Greek Festival Days; Caribbean Days; March of Dimes Month; Canadian Cancer Society Month; Hockey Canada Week; Surrey Pride Festival Week; Vaisaki Festival; etc. etc. etc.

With a spare flagpole, these groups can mark the occasion by flying their banner in front of city hall to draw attention to their cause without disturbing the holy trinity of flagpoles already in place.

And on days when there is nothing to celebrate, why not let school kids produce alternate banners for an additional splash of colour?

Surrey is supposed to be a welcoming place, so why not make people and their causes feel welcome in a more visible manner?

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