By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
Civic Square is for all residents, and should not cater to one particular group.
This was the reasoning of a majority of Oshawa councillors when they voted to deny a request from PFLAG Durham to paint the planters in Civic Square in rainbow colours.
The request came on the heels of another PFLAG request that was denied by council when the LGBTQ rights group sought to paint crosswalks in the city with rainbow hues.
Speaking at the recent meeting of the community services committee prior to the council meeting, Jayme Harper, PFLAG Canada-Durham Region’s executive director, said the project would help to show the LGBTQ community “that they count.”
“Every community needs to see themselves somewhere,” he said. “We think it’s important to stand by our brothers and sisters.”
PFLAG’s proposal came with no cost to the city, as the group planned to use donated paint and volunteers to complete the work. Further plans were also laid out to paint the 10 north planters with symbols of protected human rights.
Councillor Rick Kerr, a voice of dissent for the idea at both committee and council, said Civic Square is meant to be a “welcoming, inclusive and neutral space,” and that the city does “a great job of welcoming everybody equally.”
However Councillor John Shields says the reasons Kerr listed are also the exact reason council should consider the idea.
His sentiment was shared by Councillor Amy McQuaid-England, who said she hoped council would have “a change of heart” and move forward with the project.
“I think it would add a really great opportunity for us,” she said.
The request was eventually turned down, with only Councillor John Neal joining Shields and McQuaid-England voting against the denial.
Following the vote, Councillor Bob Chapman brought forward his own idea, that instead of painting the planters, the city should consider a garden that would celebrate and support the idea of human rights for everyone.
“I think we can do a far better job of recognizing the human rights in a setting that will be peaceful and tranquil,” he said.
The motion was referred to staff for feasibility and location.
Remembering those lost
In a brief recess at the same meeting, councillors stepped outside to take part in a vigil to remember those killed in Orlando on June 12.
A gunmen armed with an assault rifle walked into a gay nightclub and opened fire, killing 49 people before being killed by police.
The sorrowful ceremony was attended by hundreds of Oshawa residents and was wrapped up by a powerful speech from Adrian Betts, AIDS Committee Durham Region’s executive director.
Betts, fighting back tears, said the anger and the hate that he and others in the LGBTQ community felt should be funnelled into something good.
He stressed that they should not be afraid.
“Do something LGBTQ affirming. While it may be scary, perhaps even scarier than it was before, hold your lover’s hand in public, come out, live your life, laugh, make out, make love, show love, feel love. That’s how we fight back.”