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CANADIAN MAYOR REFUSES TO DECLARE GAY PRIDE WEEK

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Fredericton, New Brunswick is a city of about 47,000, located about 140 miles north-east of Bangor ME. Fredericton Lesbians and Gays (FLAG) had informally asked that a week be recognized by the city each year as Gay Pride Week, starting in 1988. They wanted to raise public awareness of the gay/lesbian community and its contributions to the city's life since 1978. Another goal might have been to reduce the number of gay bashings. There have been two serious gay bashings in recent years in which the victims died. Brad Woodside's, the mayor, has consistently refused their request. FLAG made a formal request in 1995 and was again turned down. This time, FLAG and the New Brunswick Coalition for Human Rights Reform (NBCHRR) filed a complaint with the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission, alleging discrimination on  the basis of sexual orientation. In 1997-APR, the Commission found the complaints to be "not without merit." Roly MacIntyre, the provincial government's cabinet minister responsible for human rights increased the pressure on the mayor. On 1997-NOV-21, he announced that if the matter was not resolved by the end of the year, he would appoint a board of inquiry into Mayor's refusal.

Mr. Woodside has declared that "sexual orientation does not belong in the council chamber." He claims that he is not a bigot; he just wants to "keep gays and lesbians from being segregated from the larger group." He rejects FLAG's assertion that theirs was the only request of this type that he has turned down. But he cannot recall by name any that he has rejected over the past 12 years as mayor.

Don Fleming, a professor of law at the University of New Brunswick, commented: "Freedom of expression that a public official has must be tempered by the interests of the diversity of groups whom that public individual must represent. In refusing to make a proclamation, the official may be inciting or promoting hatred against that group."

Mayor Woodside claims that, as an elected official, he should respect what he believes to be the majority opinion, even if voices heard on the radio station or letters in the paper are hostile towards FLAG and are verging on hate. He feels that if Gay Pride Week were proclaimed, that there might be a backlash from vocal and organized conservatives.

Mayor Woodside met with a mediator on one occasion, but refuses to meet with him again. He said: "I've had enough, I've made a decision and there's absolutely no opportunity for compromise in this situation now." The provincial government followed through on its threat. It has ordered a board of inquiry under their Human Rights Act. Mayor Woodside expects to lose the case before the inquiry; he expects a CDN $10,000 (US$ 7,000) fine. He said that he has received thousands of letter from supporters; many have offered money. But he doesn't plan to go down without a fight. He hopes to embarrass Mr. MacIntyre who refused a provincial proclamation request from FLAG two years ago.

Private citizens have entered the verbal battle. Wayne Whalen of Taymouth NB wrote a letter to the Fredericton Gleaner newspaper which said, in part: "What will be expected of Mayor Woodside next week? Pedophile pride week? Incest pride week? Abuse your spouse pride week? Child pornography week? Don't think for a moment these things aren't becoming more acceptable by a perverse segment of society and they too will be demanding their rights to their perversions." (Mr. Whalen overlooks the fact that homosexual behavior is legal whereas sexual child abuse,  spouse abuse and child abuse are criminal activities.)

FLAG has one supporter on the Fredericton city council. Brenda Sansom helped to get FLAG into the Canada Day parades of 1996 and 1997 where they were warmly received by a rather surprised crowd. Although she had been opposed to the mayor's stance for years, she became outspoken after an acquaintance of hers was the victim of a gay bashing.

Allison Brewer, a member of the lesgay community who complaints triggered the inquiry has stated that gays and lesbians do not want to see the mayor fined or jailed. She would prefer that the inquiry simply helps to educate the mayor and the public. "I think people operate with a lot of misinformation on this issue. I don't think gays and lesbians are what people imagine them to be. I'm not naive enough to think that the board of inquiry will clear that up. But I think it will clear the air a bit."

Recent similar Canadian cases in Hamilton ON and London ON have resulted in fines against the mayors of about US$ 3,500 and 7,000 each.

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References:

  1. M.W. Dull, "Gays and Mayor in Fight Over Rights," The Globe and Mail, Toronto ON, 1997-DEC-23
  2. "New Brunswick to Investigate Mayor's Gay-rights Stand", The Globe and Mail News Wire, Toronto ON, 1998-JAN-14

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