LETTER: Pride flag is about belonging

And that's a powerful message, one that may save lives...

On Monday June 15, Council voted to raise the Rainbow Pride flag at City Hall to coincide with the Fraser Valley celebrations that will be held in July.

Many in Abbotsford may wonder why the LGBTQ* community asks for its flag to fly high and its events to involve parades through public spaces. They wonder why our symbols and our pride must be “flaunted” for all to see. The answer is quite simple. Until very recently, LGBTQ* people were largely denied mere existence.

Although times have changed in Canada, and we now have rights that broadly accept us as equal persons, we still struggle. Many of us still hide away from society in fear of losing our jobs, losing our family and friends or losing our dignity. Holding a loved one’s hand, a goodbye kiss or even a gentle hug can be an experience filled with anxiety and fear. We think “what if I anger someone?”. In the news, we still hear of homophobic beatings and even murders.

Our youth are especially fragile. A 2013 Statistics Canada survey found that 33% of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth have attempted suicide, compared to 7% of youth in general. For trans youth, that figure rises to 47%! Also, LGBTQ* youth represent between 25-50% of the youth homeless population. The main reason our youth suffer is they lack a supportive environment of people (be they family, friends or teachers) who affirm, accept and love them unconditionally. Instead, they are bombarded with antiquated tropes about “immoral sexual lifestyles” and they are treated as sinful, perverted deviants.

When the Rainbow Pride flag rises above City Hall in July, LGBTQ* youth along with other community members will know that our government believes in an Abbotsford that is inclusive and welcoming. The flag isn’t about sex, nor about lifestyle. The Rainbow Pride flag is about belonging. And that’s a powerful message, one that may save lives.

I’ll never forget last year’s Fraser Valley Pride celebrations when I was helping decorate Rotary Stadium with rainbow coloured streamers. An elderly Indo-Canadian man who was playing cards with his friends at a picnic table got up and walked over to me to ask what I was doing. I began explaining the event and before I could finish he interjected,“Does it include transgender people?” I replied “of course!” to which the man then responded “Good, everyone deserves rights”.

That’s the Abbotsford I know and love. Thank you Mayor and Council for helping foster a city where everyone belongs.

Patrick Oystryk