On Saturday, August 21, 2021 , local residents and community leaders of Russell Township gathered at the Township Hall to raise a flag in celebration of Pride Week. You may find a link to a video of the activity in the references of this article.
A modest flag raising in mostly rural Eastern-Ontario community may not seem like an attention-getting activity. After all, it is 2021 and a celebration of inclusive community values seems as though it ought to be de rigueur. Other terms that one might think to apply might include routine, banal, standard or even expected.
But it’s not.
Given the unprecedented changes in how individuals and groups have been able to navigate their communities since the global COVID 19 crisis has quite literally locked-down communities and nations, even the question of a flag-raising event entailed significant questions and potential barriers. Can we even hold a flag-raising even in pandemic-lockded-down world?
It took the action of an activist humanist to gather their own personal motivation and energy to reach out to family, friends and community leaders to make it happen. Raising a flag to celebrate inclusive community values still requires commitment and effort.
HumanistFreedoms.com became aware of the flag raising about mid-way through August when Dr. Richard Thain , a long-standing and much respected member of the Canadian secular humanist community, brought to our attention his plan to make the event happen. Using his typically warm, affable and engaging charisma – Dr. Thain inquired about an opportunity to chat about the project. Chat, we did.
Soon after, Thain had engaged the support and assistance of the KIN Club Of Russell, his daughter Geneviève Thain, as well as other community members to organize a celebration that ought to have been an expected, standard or routine activity of the municipality. Of every municipality.
The bi-lingual event began with opening comments by the Co-Ceremony Masters, Richard and Geneviève:
…. proud to welcome you, all the dignitaries, the Russell township’s Community, diversity, equity, and inclusion committee, my family, friends, neighbours, fellow citizens and all of you who are viewing this around the world from the Kin Club of Russell’s live-stream on Facebook, to this flag-raising ceremony as we gather for this celebration of love and compassion.
It is fitting that we think about unity and about community today. Over the past seventeen to eighteen months, we have seen how events, beyond our control, such as a virus, can separate and isolate us from our communities.
Today, we are moved and honoured – in a word, proud – to have a renewed opportunity to come together with new understanding, new unities and renewed pride in our inclusive community.
We all know that there are those who may disagree on any given issue. Whether it be those who stand in the way of advances in women’s reproductive rights, medical aid in dying… or, indeed, the full realization of fundamental human rights for all marginalized persons in our community – there seem to be infinite ways and motives to divide communities. We are here today to remember historical wrongs and tragedies for Canadians who self-identify as LGBTQ+ but more importantly to celebrate the continued progress of human rights and progressive communities.
En 2013, la Haut-Commissaire des Nations Unies aux droits de l’homme a lancé l’initiative « L’ONU libre et égale » (the UN Free and Equal campaign) en réponse à leurs conclusions selon lesquelles: Plus d’un tiers des pays du monde criminalisent les relations homosexuelles consensuelles et aimantes, en consoltant les préjugés et en exposant des millions de personnes à des risques de chantage, d’arrestation et d’emprisonnement.
Many countries force transgender people to undergo medical treatment, sterilization or meet other unjust preconditions before they can obtain legal recognition of their gender identity. Intersex children are often subjected to unnecessary surgery, causing physical and psychological pain and suffering. In many cases, a lack of adequate legal protections combined with hostile public attitudes leads to widespread discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people – including workers being fired from jobs, students bullied and expelled from schools, and patients denied essential healthcare.”
En résumé, dans de nombreux cas, l’absence de protections juridiques adéquates combinée à des attitudes publiques hostiles conduit à une discrimination généralisée contre les lesbiennes, gays, bisexuels, transgenres et intersexués – y compris les travailleurs licenciés, les étudiants intimidés et expulsés des écoles, et les patients privés de soins de santé essentiels.
The rights that we wish to see around the world, we must first establish and celebrate here at home.
We have come to know and respect members of our community who have faced unbearable and unacceptable discrimination based-upon their sexual identity or orientation. Whether it is police officers and firefighters who serve their community or Canadian military personnel who served here at home and internationally; Whether it is students at our publicly-funded schools or adults of any walk of life… I am proud to be part of this flag raising which clearly states that those who serve our country and community deserve a free and equal place within it.
To paraphrase a UN Free and Equal campaign – everyone deserves a safe and loving home and everyone deserves a safe and loving community.
Soon after these opening comments, the Thains were joined by local dignitaries including the Member of Parliament of Glengarry, Prescott Russell, the Honourable Francis Drouin and the Mayor of Russell Township, His Worship Mayor Pierre Leroux and the President of the Kin Club of Russell, Patrick Hunter.
Dr. Thain read a letter from Allan Hubley, an Ottawa city councillor (Kanata South) and Chair of the Transit Commission. Dr. Thain shared that:
While thinking about and planning this flag-raising celebration a couple of weeks ago, I recalled the tragic story from a decade ago, of a Kanata high school student, named James Hubley.
James had been bullied and subsequently lost his life to suicide. His father, a member of Ottawa City Council, issued a statement on behalf of his family in October 2011. From that statement we learned:
“Jamie asked a question no child should have to ask – why do people say mean things to me?… Although James had a great many people who loved and supported him, something in his mind kept taking him to a dark place where he could not see the positive side of life…Recently, when Jamie tried to start a Rainbow Club at his high school to promote acceptance of others, the posters were torn down and he was called vicious names in the hallways and online,” writes his father.
Jamie Hubley was a figure skater and the only openly gay boy in his school. Jamie is remembered as a boy who was not afraid to be himself. He was a championship figure skater for years, loved to sing and act.
I wrote to Mr. Hubley and asked if he would be willing and available to attend our ceremony here today. He sent a wonderful reply that he has agreed for me to share with you.
Thank you for your effort and for your email. My family and I want to thank you for keeping our boy Jamie’s memory in your hearts. We are touched and filled with gratitude.
Unfortunately, I am away for a family wedding at the time of your event but wish you well and thank you for your kind invitation.
By raising the Pride flag we are going back to what Pride ceremonies were meant to accomplish. You are raising, not just a flag, but also awareness of the issues that people in every community experience. Promoting the acceptance of our differences as a community is part of what Canadians do so well.
Acceptance and respect for each other make our community and our country a better, safer place for individuals and families. For someone who is experiencing bullying or discrimination based on how they look, their sexual orientation or for any reason that makes you unique, your action in raising this flag is a very powerful statement.
The flag-raising activity was accompanied by comments from Srishti Hukku, a Kashmiri Canadian is a Research Fellow with Cambridge Reproductive Health Consultants and has over a decade of experience with the federal government in increasingly senior positions. Srishti holds a Master’s of Public Administration and a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Economics.
Before we turn to the history of the Quasar Progress Pride flag, I’d like to tell you a brief story. The year was 2002 and it was lunch time on a hot summer’s day at an Ottawa high school. Debates on same-sex marriage were roaring in the courts. I went outside to enjoy the sunshine and realized that a group of students were protesting in a circle around the main flagpole in front of the school. They had signs and were loudly chanting – you might be surprised to hear that this group of students was opposed to same-sex marriage. However, for me, that was a watershed moment. It became very clear that love is love… comme on dit en français, l’amour c’est l’amour. And that such basic human rights were worth fighting for.
Fortunately, the courts and I felt the same way with the ruling indicating only a few days later that: Marriage is … one of the most significant forms of personal relationships. Through the institution of marriage, individuals can publicly express their love and commitment to each other … This can only enhance an individual’s sense of self-worth and dignity. Now being here today for this flag raising ceremony certainly feels like my story coming full circle. As you may know, the original multi-coloured Rainbow Flag was designed by artist Gilbert Baker in 1978 in San Francisco. The version that you see here today is Daniel Quasar’s Progress Pride Flag designed 40 years later in 2018. Quasar added the black and brown stripes to represent marginalised 2LGBTQ+ communities of colour, along with the colours pink, light blue and white, which are used on the Transgender Pride Flag. The additional elements form an arrow shape that points to the right, to represent “forward movement” and are along the left edge of the flag to state that “progress still needs to be made.”
Gay rights and freedoms. Women’s rights and freedoms. Minority rights and freedoms. These are all human rights and freedoms. And even in 2021, raising a flag to celebrate human rights and freedoms is not an assured and expected activity; whether in Russell Township or in any community around the world, there is still much work to be done and many gatherings to be organized before human rights and freedoms are truly such a commonplace thing that raising a flag doesn’t also raise an eyebrow.
Well done, Richard. Well done , Geneviève. Well done to all those who gathered on a warm August day to remember where we’ve been, where we are and where we wish to go with UNIVERSAL human rights.
Citations, References And Other Reading
- Featured Photo Courtesy of: Dr. Richard Thain
The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.