NORWICH – There was a sense of relief – and some trepidation – as residents gathered in this rural Southwestern Ontario town Saturday to celebrate the reinstallation of Progress Pride banners, a symbol of LGTBQ+ support, after several were recently stolen and a furor erupted in the hands of local politicians.
The township business improvement area, along with the volunteer-run Norwich for Love and Acceptance group, on Friday mounted two of the banners in their community of 11,000, about a 45-minute drive southeast of London: one at the post office on Main Street and the other near a Home Hardware on Stover Street. Saturday, about a dozen residents joined together to mark their return.
“It feels right. It feels fantastic,” said Brian Kennedy, one of the lead volunteers behind the community group. “It’s also a relief to see them back up because when a crime like this happens and it’s not rectified, it is very disheartening, and it leaves a blemish on the community.
"So to have them back up is a sign that the community is standing for what is right and that we're working together to promote a safe and inclusive community.”
The original Progress Pride banners on display were stolen over the span of four days in late May. Oxford OPP charged Jacob (Jake) Dey, 47, with theft under $5,000 and a 16-year-old from Norwich with two counts of theft under $5,000.
The township has repeatedly been the target of anti-LGBTQ+ incidents since then, the latest involving a 30-minute delegation from Dey at a town council meeting last Tuesday. Dey, who owns an agriculture equipment store near Tillsonburg, spoke for nearly half an hour – he was allotted 10 minutes – about his opposition to the LGBTQ+ community, at one point comparing Pride as a “social movement” to Nazi Germany.
The township mayor has expressed regret over allowing Dey to have a platform at the meeting. Provincial police said they are looking into the meeting. “I can tell you that we are aware of the council meeting, and information is being reviewed at this time,” Oxford OPP Const. Patti Cote said.
In wake of the recent incidents, Kennedy and other concerned residents have formed a private citizens group. Part of the group, he said, involves members voluntarily taking shifts to routinely monitor the newly mounted Progress Pride banners.
“We were out until 2 a.m. (overnight Friday). There were about five or six of us,” said Kennedy.
Jeff Ducharme and his wife were among those patrolling the area. The longtime Norwich resident said he decided to get involved with the group after a Pride flag was stolen from his front porch earlier this month.
Similar to Kennedy, he described a sense of relief in seeing the new banners on display. “It’s fantastic. My daughter is happy, and my son is happy,” Ducharme said, adding “it’s mixed with a little trepidation” because they have to monitor them.
Kennedy wants to remind people that Pride – and standing up against hate directed toward the LGBTQ+ community – goes beyond the month of June.
“We all have a part to play,” he said. “This is Pride month and it’s about to come to an end but these issues, and standing up for inclusivity and in our community, doesn’t have a deadline.”
The citizens group hopes to see the Progress Pride banners remain in place until autumn.
The Progress Pride flag represents a broader group than the traditional rainbow Pride flag. It includes the addition of half-sized stripes in the shape of a chevron, representing trans individuals (light blue, light pink, white); marginalized people of colour and Indigenous people (brown, black); and those living with AIDS, those no longer living and the stigma surrounding them (black).
Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press