The County of Brant kicked off their Pride Month celebrations with a flag raising ceremony at the downtown Paris office on Thursday, June 9.
While Brant was celebrating how far they have come in supporting the LGBTQIA+ community, individuals in a neighbouring municipality proved just how important celebrating pride is.
At the end of May, individuals stole and vandalized a number of pride and progress flags in Norwich, which is located in Oxford County. County of Brant Mayor David Bailey reacted to the incident, stating that this is why pride events are so important.
“All we are asking is to be treated as equals,” Mayor Bailey said. “We do not want to be put above anybody else, we raise the flag because of how far we have come and how far we still have to go. A lot of the Norwich community is faith driven, and instead of moving forward they are often moving backwards. I feel terribly for the community members in Norwich that don’t feel the same way as the people who stole the flags, those that had flags stolen from their own front yards. To put it simply, in their church their own women are not allowed to stand to pray or sing. If you can’t treat your own women equally, then what you think of our pride has no effect on me.”
Since the incident, two people have been charged, Jacob Dey, 47, of Tillsonburg with theft under $5,000, and a 16-year-old of Norwich Township who cannot be named. Donors have stepped up to replace the stolen flags in the community.
Not to be overshadowed by the incident, the flag raising ceremony in Paris drew out a number of community members including members of the Ontario Provincial Police, the AIDS Network, the Bridge and local business owners.
“I fought my whole life to be a part of everything,” Mayor Bailey said, opening the ceremony. “It’s hard for my generation who fought so hard to fit in, to have days like this where we get to stand out again. Being at my age, I’ve seen probably the most interesting 50 years that you can possibly see. I remember going to school and not being able to disclose that you are gay, when I was a boy it was illegal. We’ve come a long way since but we haven’t come all the way yet.”
Mayor Bailey also spoke to attendees about the global HIV/AIDS pandemic, and how far research and medication have come since the days that he first learned about the disease.
“We lost far too many members of our community, but we have come such a long way,” he said. “Many lived in fear, many died because the research and education and awareness just weren’t there. But this disease has become a medical condition, like diabetes or a heart condition, and many people will continue to live their authentic lives thanks to medications, treatments and ongoing research.”
County staff told attendees that the municipality’s rainbow crosswalk will be redone in the coming weeks, at no cost to the taxpayer. The crosswalk, which was installed in downtown Paris in 2021, was painted with the wrong product and has chipped away with weather and passing traffic.
“I am glad that we can now live more openly, authentically and inclusively,” Mayor Bailey said. “We’re at a stage where they’ve elected a gay man, which is absolutely unheard of, in a very conservative town. I’m very grateful for the confidence the community put in me, regardless of my sexuality. I hope that progress continues to be made.”