Pride flags are being raised in and around the Norwich, Ont., region Wednesday in honour of the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia.
Mark Fisher, director of education for the Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB), said in a statement to Global News that both schools and administrative buildings within the board will fly Pride flags on May 17.
“Thames Valley recognizes the Pride flag as a symbol of equity and inclusion,” Fisher said. “Recognizing May 17 and Pride Month reinforces Thames Valley’s commitment to ensuring that all students feel valued, accepted, and safe when at school.”
He said the “removal of, or damage to the Pride flag causes harm and is contrary to TVDSB’s commitment to ensure learning and working environments are free from all forms of discrimination and harassment.
“Replacement flags will be provided to schools in the event of removal or damage to ensure timely replacement,” he said.
In his statement, Fisher highlighted that all schools are raising a Pride flag, including Emily Stowe Public School, the only elementary school in Norwich.
The township made headlines last month after city council passed a motion to ban non-government flags, including Pride flags, on municipal properties.
The controversial decision was met with immense backlash from LGBTQ2 community supporters, pushing Tami Murray, president of the Oxford County Pride Committee, to file an Ontario human rights complaint.
“I think the challenge is that it’s going to be a journey, not an event in terms of this process,” she said. “We are going to continue to advocate and continue to fight for the rights of everyone in Oxford County, not just the select few who really just want to maintain power to oppress and marginalize people.
“It’s just unacceptable in 2023.”
Norwich, a township of at least 11,000 people, was first thrown into the spotlight last summer following a series and anti-LGBTQ2 incidents, including multiple thefts and reports of vandalism of Pride flags.
Following the decision to exclude Pride and other non-civic flags from being flown on city property, council also voted against a motion that would proclaim June as Pride month in the municipality beginning this summer.
Despite that, the broader county Norwich sits in stated that they were not following in the township’s footsteps, vowing to take the opposite approach.
Oxford County Warden Marcus Ryan, who also serves as the mayor of Zorra Township, stressed that they will be flying the Pride flag as the bylaw has now been reworded to formally permit it.
“As a response to the discrimination in the south area of Oxford County, we’ve had some amazing townships that have looked at the archives of their own bylaws and have shifted and changed them,” Murray said.
— Marcus Ryan (@marcusryanzorra) April 25, 2023
However, Murray told Global News that a delegation has recently been put forward to Zorra council to reverse the change and ban Pride flags.
“On the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia nonetheless,” she said. “We will, unfortunately, be spending our evening at township council to ensure that that is not accepted and that we continue in the progressive way that we are going.”
Global News has reached out to Oxford County Warden Marcus Ryan for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication.
In regards to the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, Murray said seeing the number of Pride flags still raised in the community fills her with hope for the future.
“Given what we’ve experienced here in Oxford County, I think it’s a good opportunity to educate and advocate,” she said, adding a message of praise to TVDSB and Emily Stowe Public School for their choice to fly the flag Wednesday.
“TVDSB is an amazing supporter in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion,” Murray said. “I have spoken to the Emily Stowe principal and the school is doing what we need to do in terms of sending the message of inclusion and that all students are supported, loved and heard.”
She added that Oxford County Pride will be gathering at the Norwich United Church in support of the Norwich Residents for Love and Acceptance – a community group that formed in response to the rise in homophobic acts – in honouring May 17.
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