Why the Rainbow Flags Raisings at City Hall and Queen's Park Matter
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Why the Rainbow Flags Raisings at City Hall and Queen’s Park Matter

The flag is a symbol of progress and—yes—pride.


I stood on the rooftop of City Hall yesterday afternoon, under the blazing sun and surrounded by heaps of other sweaty Torontonians, to watch elected officials raise a rainbow flag over the city. It was the first time I attended the annual ceremony, and I kept my expectations low. The speeches were rehearsed, the same fodder I’d heard hundreds of times from politicians making nice with a minority community. Photographers smashed into to me dozens of times as they tried to snap the perfect shot of the flag being hoisted up the pole. A friend and journalist told me, just moments before the ceremony began, he wouldn’t be writing much about the event. “This is just PR,” I told him. He nodded.

But it wasn’t until the flag was already waving up in the air, when the gaggles of media had dissipated, that I realized how great I felt. Standing among more than one hundred spectators, there was certainly a feeling of—yes—pride.

When you’re part of the LGBTQ community, it is easy to become cynical of elected officials. Historically, LGBTQ legislation has been pushed aside—consider that it was only two weeks ago that the Liberal government tabled a federal bill to protect transgender Canadians, for example—and the community has often felt forgotten. It is convenient for politicians to become allies when a corporate festival rolls into town, or when a flag is raised just steps from their offices.

Perhaps that cynicism has blinded me to the greater good that comes from these gatherings.

This year, Pride has sprouted up across the province. Yesterday, the City raised not just a rainbow flag but a trans flag down on Queen Street—a Toronto first. Today, Premier Kathleen Wynne, Ontario’s first openly gay premier, partook in the flag raising at Queen’s Park. And later this afternoon, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be in attendance as the flag is raised on Parliament Hill for the first time in Canadian history.

There’s no doubt that these ceremonies are great photo ops for our elected officials, and that their speeches are rehearsed and written to evoke those mushy feel-good emotions within us. But they are also symbolic of the support and love this community has always longed for. The heads of each level of government have come forward to show that they care about LGBTQ Canadians—and that matters.

To diminish these flag raising ceremonies is to forget the progress that has been made even in the past few years. It was only two years ago that Toronto’s then-mayor Rob Ford objected to flying a rainbow flag at City Hall to show solidarity with gay athletes at the Sochi Olympic Games, and failed to show up at a rainbow flag raising at City Hall to support the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Ford, too, never marched in the Pride Parade during his time as both councillor and mayor. To have a mayor this time around so willing to celebrate Pride—he agreed to don a pink tie at a mayors’ meeting in Winnipeg today to demarcate the start of Pride Month—feels great.

After all, that’s what these flags are for: making the LGBTQ community feel like they belong. They are symbols used to heal past wounds, symbols of progress. Our city, province, and country stand with us, and that matters.

It doesn’t, of course, erase the government’s shortcomings. At Queen’s Park today, LGBTQ parents gathered to press Premier Wynne about Cy and Ruby’s Act, a bill tabled last October to ensure lesbian mothers have equal legal rights over their children, and that trans parents are labelled correctly on their children’s birth certificates. Wynne announced that her Liberal government would be tabling a new bill in the fall, further delaying the legislation. It also took Toronto City Council nearly a decade to consider funding LGBTQ youth homeless shelters—one of which will only open a year from now.

It is imperative that our elected officials not just celebrate the successes of our community, but help improve our circumstances, too.

I left City Hall yesterday feeling lucky: I live in a city, province, and country where my identity is celebrated, where my rights have been brought to the fore by those in power. It doesn’t mean the LGBTQ community shouldn’t continue holding politicians to account—and it’s certainly okay to be cynical of their motive every now and then. But we could stand to feel proud of their efforts, especially during this historical year. Isn’t that what Pride is all about?