SURREY – While the time has passed to see the pride flag flown at city hall during the Olympic Games, whether or not it will reach the top of the flagpole on the day that Pride Week commences in Surrey has yet to be decided. That’s what has local gay rights activist Martin Rooney looking into legislation surrounding the issue, along with members of the Surrey Pride Society.
Back in February, when Rooney sent what he thought was a formal request to get the flag flown at city hall; he heard nothing back from the mayor or any members of council.
"The background is that the pride flag has never been flown in any official capacity in Surrey in 15 years of celebrating pride," Rooney told the Now over the phone, noting that the pride flag has regularly been flown in neighbouring municipalities. "In February, when the Olympics were going on, 30 to 40 cities across Canada flew the pride flag in support of our GLBT athletes that were participating in the Sochi Olympics, considering that Putin had put all
this negative, anti-gay propaganda in play and so we approached the city with an email to the mayor and the council requesting that the pride flag be flown in support of the GLBT athletes as we were originally an Olympic city."
It wasn’t until Rooney decided to go public on social media that Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts responded to his request, he said.
"Until I tweeted it out and hash-tagged (Watts) in the tweet, there was no response from city council. (Watts) responded that there was never a refusal to fly the pride flag, (but) there was never a formal request to do so," he said.
Rooney took issue with the statement, saying that personal emails to the mayor and to council members should have at least triggered a response indicating how to go about the process, if not just a simple "Yes" or "No."
Later, he received an email response quoting "federal flag protocol" as the reason that the pride flag could not be hoisted. City councillors share scattered opinions on the matter, he said, but Rooney is hoping this won’t be the case in July, when Pride Week takes off in Surrey.
"What would be helpful
for us to make our decision is to look at what other municipalities have done in the Lower Mainland," said Coun. Barinder Rasode.
"Surrey is a very inclusive community, and so is city hall," City Manager Vincent Lalonde said on behalf of Mayor Watts. "Our practice has been, in the past, to only fly the Canadian, provincial and city flag on our official flagpoles but that doesn’t mean we don’t promote diversity – we have all kinds of opportunities to promote diversity." He also noted that the city is developing a formal policy on the matter since it arose in February.
While Rooney is skeptical that the Surrey Pride Society will be successful in seeing the pride flag wave at city hall for the entire Pride Week, he is hoping, at least, to see it go up for the opening day on Sunday, July 6. "It’s 2014, and basically the hope of flying the flag is to tell everybody in Surrey that everyone is welcome," he said. "As the founder of the first Pride Day in 1999, I’ve formed an alliance of community leaders and organizations to finally get this dialogue in public, with the hope that the city would do the right thing."