So for those of you who are wondering why I’ve been so quiet for the past week, I just bought a hot tub. And, I’ve spent the last week in my backyard bliss far away from politics 

I would still be there tonight except some of you decided to get very upset about pride flags and now I have to make this video.

This morning the internet exploded because Norwich County is not hanging a pride flag. Yes, that’s the entire story.                                                       

For those of you who don’t know what Norwich is, which I expect is basically everyone, Norwich is a tiny rural community in deep conservative Ontario back country. I spent a few years living right next to Norwich so it’s an area that I actually know quite well.

This week, the Norwich council voted to hang only Federal, Provincial and Municipal flags on municipal property. No pride flags, no religious flags, no Ikea flags. Just keeping it straightforward and simple.

And now people have spun this to suggest that not hanging a flag is an act of homophobia or transphobia.

Let’s take a moment to think about what’s going on here. A small village that’s basically nothing more than an LCBO, a Foodland and a Tim Horton’s decided not to hang a pride flag on their municipal flagpoles. And they’ve chosen not to bring forward a declaration in their council meeting to recognize June as pride month.

If you accuse Norwich of homophobia and transphobia for electing NOT to fly a pride flag, then you are not adopting a position that we are free to fly flags. You’ve instead created a position of coercion, whereby those who do not bow to your demand are deemed to be guilty of holding beliefs or positions that they’ve never spoken or expressed.

Now, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with pride flags. Not gonna lie, they are not really my thing, but if some people like these flags and wish to display them in their homes and businesses then I think that’s great that we live in a country where they are free to do so.

But if you accuse Norwich of homophobia and transphobia for electing NOT to fly a pride flag, then you are not adopting a position that we are free to fly flags. You’ve instead created a position of coercion, whereby those who do not bow to your demand are deemed to be guilty of holding beliefs or positions that they’ve never spoken or expressed.

And that is precisely what individuals have been suggesting today on Twitter, Instagram and the CBC. It’s been suggested that the mere act of not flying a pride flag is an assault on the LGBT community and constitutes the phobias.

Do you know how many flags are not hanging on Norwich’s flagpoles? Most of the flags. There are flags for religions and sports teams and special interest groups of all forms and varieties. Any of these could be flown, and history has shown many requests for various flags to be displayed. And that would be a lot of flags. 

Some of these flags are divisive and controversial. Not everyone wants to see the Toronto Maple Leaf’s flag on their townhall for example.

Like any ideological position the pride flag has those in support and those who are against what it represents. And it’s important to note that the LGBT community is not homogeneous and there’s a not insignificant portion of the community who does NOT like this particular flag and what it has come to symbolize. And even amongst the LGBT space there are like 50 different versions of the pride flag.

See, this is not an LGBT vs. bigot debate, it’s a ‘those for whom the pride flag holds positive meaning’ and ‘those for whom it doesn’t’ division.

10 years ago, Windsor stopped raising the Christian Flag over City Hall. Why? Because they recognized that as a secular institution whose mandate is to run the operation of the municipality, hanging a flag for an interest group becomes untenable. What would happen if the local Muslim association wanted to hang their flag as well? And the Jewish community? How do we decide which flags can be flown?

And flying the flags of one particular interest groups can quickly become a point of division and controversy. As I already mentioned, there are plenty of LGBT people who themselves feel trivialized and commercialized by what pride has come to embody.

So what exactly did Norwich say about this? Norwich Counsellor Scholten provided the following comment: “To open the door to flying flags that represent any particular group, organization, or ideology, will only divide rather than unite.”

There’s a lot of truth to that statement. Isn’t this why we are careful what we say about religion in schools? Isn’t this why we often don’t bring up politics at family gatherings?

You might disagree and think that the town hall is a place to hang a pride flag. Many municipal councils have taken this position. But Norwich decided not to take an action is NOT the same as them taking an action in opposition. They are not hanging an anti-pride flag.

Do you know what’s similar to flags? Lawn signs. During the last election, I did not sport a lawn sign in support of any candidate. Does that mean that I was against all candidates? No. It meant I don’t enjoy making my neighbours feel uncomfortable when if hold different political viewpoints. Some people might think that I just didn’t have any lawn signs because I didn’t have a strong preference of candidates in that election but you’d be wrong because I myself was a candidate on the ballot. I just don’t want to create division with my neighbours.

Now, I do want to acknowledge the other side to this debate. Advocates of pride flags will often suggest that their placement signifies an inclusive environment so LGBT individuals know that they are welcome. I actually have personal experience with this. See, prior to 2019, St. Mary’s, my local hospital with Catholic roots, didn’t display pride flags throughout their facility. I never noticed this absence.

But when I last visited them in late 2019, the triage nurse told me that they now had pride stickers on many doors throughout their facility because of me. Yes, me!

The moment we move towards cancelling organizations who don’t display the pride flag, we cease to make displaying this flag a choice and it becomes a societal obligation. If displaying this flag is an obligation that organizations must adhere, then the presence of it in your store windows or flagpoles no longer means that you hold the values that it is purported to represent.

See, I had met this nurse months earlier during a previous visit and since I’m rather outgoing we got chatting during my triage. We didn’t discuss anything about LGBT matters, but I’m clearly transgender my open-ness about that reality made her realize that there wasn’t any signage to reassure LGBT individuals that they would be accepted in this Catholic-rooted hospital. She talked to the administration and now, flags!

I was honoured and horrified simultaneously.

I used to be able to somewhat appreciate the pride flag for purposes of signalling acceptance, except that it’s now become compelled and commercialized to the point that presenting the flag means nothing at all. How many brands do nothing to improve the lives of marginalized LGBT individuals and yet market all sorts of rainbow coloured merchandise throughout June because it’s cool and hip and sells.

The moment we move towards cancelling organizations who don’t display the pride flag, we cease to make displaying this flag a choice and it becomes a societal obligation. And if displaying this flag is an obligation that organizations must adhere, then the presence of it in your store windows or flagpoles no longer means that you hold the values that it is purported to represent.

So for myself, I align with what Zoe wrote when she said “Due to growing up in a very divided country where flags were often used to show what “side” you’re on, I do not fly flags. To me they represent division, not unity.

And I think that’s what a lot of people are missing in this. If you come to my house, you won’t find a single flag on display. Should you take that to mean that I am anti-gay or anti-Canada or anti-everything? No, because while you won’t find a Canadian flag or a pride flag, you also won’t find a confederate flag or a Nazi flag displayed either.

I think pride flags are unnecessary, and I don’t choose to sport them. But I am so glad that those who want to wear or display these flags have the ability to do so. You can choose to judge me by my lack of flag, but do we really want to tread to a place where an absence of a virtue signifier is taken to be representative of hate?

Julia Malott

Julia Malott is a Canadian based transgender individual who advocates for bridging the gap between diverse viewpoints on gender identity and ideology. Julia is the host of Alotta Thoughts Podcast which features bi-weekly long form discussions exploring the complexity of sex and gender.

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Julia Malott

Julia Malott is a Canadian based transgender individual who advocates for bridging the gap between diverse viewpoints on gender identity and ideology. Julia is the host of Alotta Thoughts Podcast which features bi-weekly long form discussions exploring the complexity of sex and gender.