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Norwich citizens call on council to take action after pride flag fall-out

Citizens spoke out at a Norwich Township council meeting on Tuesday morning urging council to take steps toward inclusion after a string of acts against the LGBTQ+ community in the area. 

Citizen delegates spoke at a July 12 Norwich Township council meeting

Brian Kennedy, president of the Norwich Residents for Love and Acceptance, said council has not done enough since the June 21 meeting. (Michelle Both/CBC)

Citizens spoke out at a Norwich Township council meeting on Tuesday morning urging council to take steps toward inclusion after a string of acts against the LGBTQ+ community in the area. 

"We must do more to make everyone feel safe and included in our community," said Brian Kennedy, president of the Norwich Residents for Love and Acceptance, a community group that formed in response to the rise in homophobic acts. 

Dozens of community members came out to Oxford Centre Hall for the meeting — some wearing supportive shirts with pride flags in-hand. 

Tuesday's citizen delegations were voiced in reaction to vocal hatred toward the gay community at a June 21 council meeting where a 47-year-old man spoke for 30-minutes uninterrupted by council. The speaker, Jake Dey, was charged with theft for stealing pride flag banners in Norwich. 

Kennedy said it's been four-weeks since the June meeting, and if it was important to council more action would have already been taken. 

Susan Kalles called on council to “take the lead” to promote inclusion and acceptance in the community at the council meeting on July 12. (Michelle Both/CBC)

Resident Susan Kalles said the hateful rhetoric at the June council meeting evoked fear for the safety of herself and others. On Tuesday, she called on council to "take the lead" to promote inclusion and acceptance in the community.

"I call on council to set the tone for a better, more vibrant community that allows for fuller participation, especially for groups that are more marginalized and more likely to experience exclusion and discrimination," she said. Kalles urged council to engage in diversity, equity, inclusion and safer space training along with promoting "inclusion in our community as a priority." 

A youth holds a progressive pride flag in front of a building.
Sydney van de Hoek said speaking at the Norwich Township council meeting helped her feel heard and respected. She called on the council to make the community safer so people in the LGBTQ+ community don't have to live in fear. (Michelle Both/CBC)

Sydney van de Hoek, who sits on the Wellkin volunteer youth engagement advisory committee, said speaking as a delegate at the meeting helped her feel heard and respected. "I felt like it was important to hear the youth perspective," said the 19-year-old. 

Norwich Residents for Love and Acceptance has collected 400 signatures on a petition in support of the pride flags and for more inclusion in the township.

An petition opposing the Pride flags was on the Tuesday's council meeting agenda, but was not discussed by politicians.

Norwich Township council listen to citizen delegates at the council meeting on Tuesday, July 12 at Oxford Centre Hall. Mayor Larry Martin (centre) said council plans to "tighten down procedural bylaws" in response to the public hatred against the LGBTQ+ community expressed at the June 21 meeting. (Michelle Both/CBC)

Ward 2 councillor Lynne DePlancke agrees that something needs to change. 

"Moving forward as a council right now, we need to take steps so it doesn't happen again," she said, adding that council needs time to make changes. 

"To move forward as a community, we all have to strive to be more inclusive and learn how to be more diversified — have equality for everyone," she told CBC News. 

Mayor Larry Martin came to the defence of council, stating that in his seven-and-a-half years as mayor, he has never stopped a delegate from speaking and has an obligation to hear concerns from constituents in their entirety. 

"We can't undo what happened. We can not undo that. The only thing that we can do is move forward and try and prevent it from ever happening again," he said. 

"The council didn't burn those flags. We didn't steal them. The man that allegedly did that has charges laid against him now and all we can do is wait for the outcome of the courts."

Sydney van den Hoek was stunned and appalled after a local business owner charged with taking down Pride flags in Norwich was allowed to talk about his religion and anti-pride thoughts at a recent council meeting. Van den Hoek joined London Morning ahead of addressing the council as a queer person herself.

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