Minto council sides with Pride, votes against 'neutral' public spaces

MINTO – Emotions were running high Tuesday night as almost 100 people witnessed Minto council's unanimous approval of a new commemoration policy, including the flying of Pride flags, despite some calls for 'neutrality' in public spaces.

Calling the policy "a fair solution" that considers both sides in favour or opposed to a community petition for "neutral" public spaces, Mayor Dave Turton said councillors met with their solicitor during the meeting's closed session and all agreed it "upholds Minto's vision to be a community where all families belong."

A group of residents previously came to council with a petition claiming more than 900 residents want town crosswalks to be painted to standard and the only flags to be flown on public property or at public facilities to be largely restricted to the Canada flag, Ontario flag and the Town of Minto flag.

Since the petition was unveiled, town staff said they've received hundreds of letters and emails on both sides of the issue.

"In offering the opportunity for commemoration programs through this commemoration policy, the town has attempted to balance a variety of community interests ... (and) cannot support a bylaw to ensure crosswalks and flags, banners on public property remain neutral," said Turton, greeted by applause from half the gallery. "(Council) as outlined in our new strategic plan will support the community vision that the town of Minto is a progressive rural community where all people are welcome."

Listing some of their past projects including the installation of a permanent rainbow crosswalk in Harriston in 2022 and a recent fundraiser for several light post banners during their presentation on the importance of Pride, several members of the Minto Pride committee thanked council for its ongoing support and shared some personal anecdotes during the meeting.

"All of those small pieces (of support) go towards building a safe, inclusive and accepting community," said the committee in their presentation. "It makes people feel like they can be themselves without needing to leave Minto...(and), in the face of discrimination or hatred, it lets people know they are not alone. They have support here."

Referencing the ongoing vandalism of Pride decorations in Minto including the destruction of banners along Main Street in Palmerston last week, the committee argued that while the decorations "may seem trivial," they signify to 2SLGBTQIA+ residents that they're welcome and discrimination won't be tolerated.

They also sought to clear up 'misconceptions' shared during previous delegations to council about neutrality, saying sexuality isn’t a “choice," their identities are not “alternative lifestyles," Pride flags don't push sexuality or sex, educating children on Pride doesn't endanger them and celebrating Pride doesn't take away from any other initiatives, groups or identities, they said.

Another delegate and committee member, Samantha Greer later shared some statistics she felt shed light on the importance of visible Pride in rural areas and encouraged the pro-neutrality supporters to educate themselves.

"We are proud not only to be who we are but to call Minto home," said the committee. "We believe there is beauty in diversity, and that our efforts in June take away nothing from the other amazing causes and groups in our wonderful area. We are happy to celebrate and acknowledge them as well. More, not less, is what keeps our community growing and thriving."

The neutrality party later used the council's question period to respond to the Pride Committee delegation and question the legitimacy of the pro-Pride letters and statistics shared about 2SLGBTQIA+ youth.

"Homosexuality has been around since the beginning of time, my question (is) does that make it right," said Minto resident Glen Meyer. "Murder has been around ... but we don't condone it or say it's okay or support it. Homosexuality is a gross sin."

Shouting "amen" following Meyer's delegation, Dan Sinclair requested a community vote and said "dictatorships always rule" following council's approval of the new commemoration policy.

"Why are you so afraid to have a (community vote) over this extremely controversial issue?" Sinclair asked council during the question period. "Allowing the community, the taxpayers to decide unbiasedly what they want."

Turton said as elected officials, the municipal council is tasked with making decisions on behalf of the community.

CAO Gregg Furtney said a referendum would be costly for the town if implemented.

Isabel Buckmaster, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,