A New Brunswick village has taken down a “straight flag” after a single day, following a public backlash locally and beyond.
Chipman’s village council issued a statement Monday afternoon saying the flag was raised as a sign of support for all groups in the community, but it was removed as a result of “unintentional attention,” and based on residents’ feedback.
“The straight flag is being seen as a flag of privilege and anti-minorities which our community and our council does not support,” Mayor Carson Atkinson wrote.
“This flag distraction is a lesson for us and for other rural communities such as our own.”
The statement said “no harm or hate was intended,” and that the village of 1,200 remains “an open welcoming community.”
The flag was raised Sunday afternoon with Atkinson saying it met the village council’s criteria because it “recognizes, accepts and respects the rights of individuals under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
Atkinson said it was important to celebrate everyone in Chipman, and said the council previously voted to raise the rainbow flag representing the LGBTQ community.
“Whatever your personal persuasions, political or religious views, or country of origin, we welcome you in our community and ask for your volunteer efforts to help make Chipman a more open, dynamic and attractive community for all citizens,” Atkinson said in a Sunday speech.
Comments have poured in on the village’s Facebook page from residents and neighbours criticizing the decision as harmful towards the LGBTQ community and urging the town to take down the flag — three black stripes over a white background.
By Monday afternoon, the flag had been removed from its spot beside a main road.
Chipman’s office assistant, Janette Fanjoy, said on Monday that the rainbow flag had been raised for the week of June 24, and the straight flag had also been scheduled to fly for one week.
Faith Kennedy, who works with youth in the community, said she was surprised the council approved the straight flag.
Kennedy was one of a number of residents who requested a rainbow flag fly for the village’s first pride celebrations this year, although requests for a rainbow crosswalk were not approved.
Kennedy said she had read in the local newspaper about the idea of a straight flag being presented to council, but didn’t expect the mayor and councillors to approve it.
“Heterosexuals have never had to fight, we’ve always been accepted,” said Kennedy.
“I personally hope that this doesn’t represent the better part of our village. I was raised here and I would like to think that this isn’t really what our village is about.”
Justin Smith, who grew up in the neighbouring village of Minto, N.B., said in an email Monday that he sees the raising of the straight flag as a “display of hate” that sends a disappointing message.
“There has been a lot of emotions that come with seeing community leaders act in this blatantly insensitive manner,” Smith wrote.
As a member of the LGBTQ community, Smith said he celebrates pride after years of living with disrespect and bullying, and said he sees it as a way to honour those who have been killed over their sexual and gender identities.
Smith said he hopes the council will issue an apology and resign.
“The LGBT pride movement wasn’t born out of a celebration of sexuality, it was to bring visibility to an oppressed and marginalized people group,” Smith wrote.
“The sad irony here is that raising a so-called ‘straight pride’ flag … is a prime example of the discrimination that we have faced and still face today.”
Helen Kennedy, executive director of human rights group Egale Canada, said she wasn’t familiar with the straight flag — and Sunday’s ceremony was the first time she had heard of it being raised in Canada.
Kennedy said the council’s decision to raise the flag was “unfortunate and unnecessary,” and said it likely stems from a lack of understanding of the real symbolism of the pride flag, as well as a lack of understanding about the hardships faced by Canada’s LGBTQ community.
“When the LGBT community recognizes an event like pride or sees the pride flag flying, it is an indication that their community is potentially a safe space for them to be and to live,” Kennedy said.
“I think it’s really unfortunate that the community has done this because it further marginalizes LGBTI people and it makes them feel really unsafe in their communities.”
Kennedy said the incident in Chipman highlights the importance of educating the public about the realities faced by many LGBTQ people in Canada, such as lack of access to health care, housing and employment, was well as high incidents of homelessness.
She said she hopes the village will take the opportunity to discuss the realities of being a marginalized person in a small community, and the message that raising a “straight pride” flag sends.
“It really flies in the face of those who are the most marginalized in our society.”
-By Holly McKenzie-Sutter in St. John’s, N.L.
The Canadian Press