How Hope's politicians changed their mind on the pride flag

A year after its council rejected a request to hoist the flag, its politicians reversed course

Megan te Boekhorst made it (relatively) easy for Hope council to say ‘yes.’ And they did.

A year after Hope’s politicians denied the request of te Boekhorst and the Hope Pride Committee to raise the rainbow flag, they gave the thumbs up to a slightly different request that will have the same end result: the raising of a Pride Flag outside of Hope’s municipal hall in June.

But Hope Pride’s considerable victory last week did not come without angst—or confrontation.

The reason

A flag is a symbol. Most flags are meant to symbolize allegiance to a place or government or, sometimes, cause.

But to te Boekhorst, the pride flag provides far more than symbolic value. The display of the flag, she said, changes how people live their lives and how comfortable they feel participating in community life.

Te Boekhorst said she has heard from new arrivals in Hope who had heard stories about the community’s past and were afraid about how the town would welcome them. Te Boekhorst said that the pride flag in Mountainview Brewing helped alleviate those fears in at least that one location.

“They realized there was a place for them in this community, that there was somebody in this community who cared about them, and that there was a place they could go and socialize and be safe.”

Similarly, te Boekhorst said the Hope Pride Committee’s events and activities the past year has brought other residents out of the woodwork.

“This couple who had lived here for 25 years, and at a barbecue, they came up to me. They're the sweetest, sweetest two women, who said they never thought they would see this happening in Hope. They thought, ‘We're just going to live on ourselves, we're going to sort of isolate for our own protection, and they never thought they could actually come out and be free to be themselves.”

Te Boekhorst said the pride flag’s message is important to give LGBTQ people the same sense of freedom and security that many others take for granted.

“A flag to us demonstrates that we are safe, that when crimes are taken against our community, that the community we'll have our back,” she said. “When we see the pride flag, we know. It's like there's a weight that's lifted off my shoulders. I breathe a little easier in places with pride flags.”

Te Boekhorst said flags in businesses have a similar effect that radiates around their locations. She spoke of a downtown laundromat owner who displayed a pride sticker and who, after one was removed from its windows, declared she would replace it immediately.

“Her insistence on ensuring that the flag was still there, that she would get a flag again, made me know that if I was in trouble downtown Hope I could go to Carla for help,” te Boekhorst said. “These are the things that queer people have to think about all the time. These are the realities of especially being visibly queer.”

Te Boekhorst said that for many, “The pride flag means that they know where they can go. And they avoid the places that they don't know.”

Silence echoes

Before asking council to display the pride flag last week, te Boekhorst sharply criticized the lack of a public statement from the district and its council after a vandalism spree targeted pride symbols last year.

Last June, locals painted a rainbow crosswalk in the centre of town, only to see it vandalized with slurs the following night. That same evening vandals broke a window at a non-profit that displays a prominent pride flag, then tried to light the flag on fire. After the news was covered by the media, te Broekhorst said she was inundated with hateful comments. But she said the lack of a response from her local government was just as bad.

“What really hurt was your silence,” she said at last week’s meeting. “Nobody from the district said anything about the hate crime, nobody made a public statement saying that that wasn't welcome in our community. And that was scarier than the crime itself for me. Because how are we supposed to face this…when a hate crime is met with silence?”

Hope’s mayor, Victor Smith, responded directly to te Boekhorst, saying he had visited the site the following day and had spoken, at the scene, about how he disapproved of the vandalism.

“I made a statement where I said ‘We don't, we don't like that [actions]. We don't stand it,” he said.

“But the queer community wasn't all there to hear you,” te Boekhorst responded. “The queer community heard silence.”

Smith said the district could have put out a media release, but that he was there and took action to address the vandalism.

“I'm happy you were there,” te Boekhorst said, “That's fantastic. But no public statement was made.”

Later at the meeting, Coun. Scott Medlock said he was “ashamed we didn’t make a public statement.”

Making a statement

The meeting provided a glimpse at how one small community, and its politicians, government, and community organizations, have been wrestling with how and where to show support for its community—and how easy it can be to say ‘yes.’

A year ago te Boekhorst had come to Hope council with a similar request for the district to fly the pride flag outside its municipal hall, but council rejected the request.

Their reason—or excuse, depending on your perspective—was that Hope didn’t want to have to fly other communities flags and worried about fielding other flag requests and making decisions about which to fly and which not to.

But during pride month in June, Hope saw a proliferation of rainbows around town.

Council’s concerns didn’t prevent flags from going up at Hope’s fire hall or its Visitors Centre. The crosswalk was painted downtown. And the Hope RCMP also flew the flag. Meanwhile, the Hope Pride Committee organized a series of incredibly well-attended events, including a barbecue, a church service, a drag storytime, and a dance. The latter two events each drew more than 90 people, te Boekhorst said.

So there were plenty of pride flags flying. Just not at the municipal hall.

And judging by last year’s decision, a pride flag at city hall still looked like it might be a tough sell.

One of the two councillors who voted in support of flying the flag last year resigned in the past year. And while Coun. Scott Medlock, a generally progressive councillor, had been absent when last year’s decision was made, te Boekhorst would still need to change the minds of at least one, and maybe two, people.

Mayor Victor Smith and several others had suggested last year that they were worried about feeling obligated to raise other banners—including those whose politics they disagreed with—if they flew the pride flag.

Te Boekhorst suggested that consideration didn’t end up being a problem for other municipalities. But last year, Hope council had a second problem with raising a pride flag. They didn’t have enough flagpoles. That was the problem te Boekhorst decided she could solve.

Te Boekhorst offered to buy the district a removable flag pole that would allow Hope to raise not only the pride flag for a month, but those of other causes and initiatives, like Communities in Bloom, Purple Lights Nights, and Truth and Reconciliation Day. Te Boekhorst also offered to help the district put a list together of other community activities and organizations that might be eligible and desire to have their flag displayed at the district hall.

Last year, we asked two Lower Mainland leaders, New Westminster Mayor Patrick Johnstone and Langley City Mayor Nathan Pachal the advice they’d give community advocates trying to persuade their local leaders to take some sort of action. Johnstone had one clear message: “Make it easy to say yes.”

And by offering to buy the district its own flag pole and addressing some of the reasons Hope council balked at raising the flag last year, the community’s pride group had made saying ‘yes’ easy enough.

At the behest of Medlock, the district’s politicians voted to both buy its own removable pole and fly the pride flag.

The decision was not unanimous. Coun. Zachary Wells suggested that the city, national, and provincial flags were the “only ones that were welcoming to everyone in the country.” And Coun. Dusty Smith voted against the move because, he said, he preferred the district develop a flag-raising policy prior to endorsing the raising of a specific banner.

Last year, Coun. Heather Stewin, who supported raising the flag, said her colleagues’ attempts to remain neutral didn’t fly.

“That statement says I don’t want to make the decision,” she said.

This year, Hope’s council had taken a clear position. The district’s own Facebook feed said it has “embraced more inclusivity.”

The pride flag will be raised outside of Hope’s municipal hall. And also maybe a few others.

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