Ban of Pride banners delivers hit to Woodstock’s reputation as an inclusive community

by | Apr 26, 2024

Rainbow Crosswalk Inc. founder and president feels blindsided by council’s decision to end the long-running display of rainbow banners

Pride banners on light posts in downtown Woodstock promoted Woodstock as an inclusive community. Council’s recent decision to ban the rainbow banners delivers a hit to that reputation, said Amanda Lightbody, founder and president of the Rainbow Crosswalk Inc.

Despite occasional discussions with town officials and knowledge that the council was reviewing its policies regarding the use of banners, flags, proclamations, and special lighting, Lightbody said the town’s decision to discontinue displaying the pride banners blindsided Rainbow Crosswalk and many other Woodstock residents.

Lightbody said Mayor Trina Jones’s and the current council’s new policies starkly differ from those of the previous mayor and council, who proactively supported the 2SLGBTQIA+ community and other marginalized groups.

“This (pride banner program) was initiated by the former council,” she explained, noting she arrived in Woodstock five years ago to what appeared to be a progressive, welcoming and inclusive town.

Mayor Jones believes the town’s new banner policy doesn’t diminish its inclusive identity.

At the March 26 council meeting, Jones defended the council’s decision in response to a letter from Rainbow Crosswalk vice president and health resource coordinator Scott McCallum.

“The Town of Woodstock welcomes and supports everyone, and council is of the view that this is one of the important reasons as to why Woodstock is one of the best places to live in the province of New Brunswick,” Jones said.

She said the policy which ended the pride banner displays resulted from financial and logistical concerns.

“Last year, this council took a purposeful, considered and thoughtful approach with respect to the development, discussion and implementation of Policy #2023–11 Banner, Flags, Proclamation and Lighting Policy,” the mayor explained.

The town approved the policy last November.

Jones said council based its decision on the recommendation of a special ad-hoc committee tasked with considering “the reality of the financial and human resources capital constraints of the town and balanced those with the interests of stakeholders, our community members, and our mandate.”

The committee’s recommendation limited light-pole banners to tourism and heritage promotion, except for Veterans’ Posters erected before Remembrance Day.

Lightbody said Rainbow Crosswalk had little input into that study or council’s final decision.

She said they attended a public meeting at the McCain Community Theatre last October to understand better how the new policy would affect them. She said the meeting asked community partners such as the Woodstock Golf and Curling Club and other town organizations about their needs, but it never addressed the potential ban of Pride banners.

Lightbody said Rainbow Crosswalk contacted the town again in January, but officials didn’t respond.

McCallum expressed disappointment in an official statement on Rainbow Crosswalk’s Facebook page.

“Despite our advocacy efforts over the past six months, the Woodstock Town Council has informed The Rainbow Crosswalk that under their new policy (#2023–11 Banner, Flags, Proclamation and Lighting Policy), they will not be hanging the Pride banners this year,” he wrote.

McCallum and Lightbody confirmed the town presented them with the banners at Rainbow Crosswalk’s request.

Lightbody said they would present them to area communities interested in displaying them. She added Woodstock’s L.P. Fisher Public Library agreed to display one banner.

Lightbody said the town failed to respond to a suggestion to install a flagpole for her group and other non-profits and community organizations to use. She suggested that the park near the library would provide an ideal spot, noting that the flag could fly as organizations held events in the park.

Former Woodstock Mayor Art Slipp, who presided over council when the town adopted the Pride banner program, said he and the councillors were proud of the decision. He said the banners added to Woodstock’s established reputation as a caring and inclusive community.

He said the decision followed a few years after the Woodstock High School girls’ hockey team earned recognition from the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission.

The Lady Thunder won the 2009 award for taking a stand against homophobia by refusing to let rival teams taunt their teammates about their sexual orientation.

“Individually, and as a team, these women exemplify the leadership qualities in the promotion of human rights that make them worthy recipients of the 2009 New Brunswick Human Rights Award,” said Gordon Porter, then chair of the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission.

Slipp said council’s first efforts to support the 2SLGBTQIA+ community consisted of painting rainbow crosswalks. He said the high cost of repainting the quickly disappearing crosswalks, plus ongoing vandalism, left the town searching for better ideas.

Council agreed to alternate Pride banners with historical, Canada Day, and other banners on light poles. Slipp said the town commissioned Tourism Director Tobi Pirie to purchase the banners. 

Beyond the initial purchase, Slipp said the cost was minimal.

“The whole deal took little money or effort,” Slipp said.

During his term as mayor, he said the town received numerous requests for proclamations, special lights, flags and banners.

He said neither he nor the council at the time saw the requests as a significant burden.

Lightbody expressed disappointment in the current council’s stand, noting they seem to be turning their backs on the town’s history of inclusiveness.

She noted even this council last year supported a proclamation recognizing International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

Lightbody and McCallum said the Woodstock council decision falls at a bad time, noting the growing examples of anti-gay and anti-trans efforts across the province and country.

“This type of policy is nothing new and similar ones are being implemented across the country in other municipalities,” said McCallum. “We feel the new policy allows bigotry to hide behind the idea of saving money and time and uses the limitation to municipal, provincial and federal flags only, as the mask. As many places across the country face backlash from anti-2SLGBTQIA+ groups, legislation such as this is able to avoid dealing with the bigotry.”

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