Community members clash over Pride banners in Minto

Petition calls for establishment of 'neutral' spaces; resident says document is 'a deceitful cover for hate'

MINTO 50ȻƵ A delegation, backed by a petition signed by over 900 residents, says Pride banners and crosswalks in Minto are divisive and is calling for more “neutral” public spaces.

But several members of the community say organizers were not completely forthcoming about the petition, which one resident calls “a deceitful cover for hate and discrimination” against the 2SLGBTQIA+ community.

At the May 7 meeting of council, Mayor Dave Turton opened the floor to Jim Dopfer, who spoke about the idea of “neutral” public spaces.

50ȻƵWe are creating division and not unity; this is why we need to be neutral because the decision to promote one group drives division,50ȻƵ said Dopfer.

He was referring to Pride banners and flags hanging in Palmerson, Harriston and Clifford, as well as a rainbow crosswalk in Harriston.

Dopfer requested that council pass a new bylaw that ensures crosswalks, flags and banners on public property remain neutral.

He said he has created a petition to that effect, with the help of Stefon von Muhlenen and Dan Sinclair, which has been signed by over 900 members of the community.

Dopfer said even more people wanted to sign the petition, but they could not out of fear of losing their jobs.

50ȻƵWe believe that maintaining political neutrality in public spaces is essential [for] a respectful and inclusive community,50ȻƵ said Dopfer.

Von Muhlenen said Minto is important to him and his family, noting he has been a member of the community for 38 years.

50ȻƵThis is a very deep, personal decision, this flag issue,50ȻƵ he told council.

50ȻƵThis has nothing to do with hate or discrimination 50ȻƵ this is about rights, very simple rights.”

Sinclair asked members of council what they will do to address the fact over 900 residents do not feel included in the community.

He said “the agenda of inclusivity is failing,” and added the only flag that should be flying on public property is one that represents everyone 50ȻƵ the nation50ȻƵs flag.  

Following the delegation, clerk Annilene McRobb told councillors a report on town banner policies will be coming to council soon.

Jokelee Vanderkop was eager to speak when it came time for the public question period.

50ȻƵHow is it that a supposedly neutral petition is really a deceitful cover for hate and discrimination against the existence of our LGBT community?50ȻƵ Vanderkop said.

She explained the issued is about human rights, not politics.

50ȻƵHow can we be neutral when we hear comments like 50ȻƵI50ȻƵm sick and tired of having their sexuality shoved down my throat50ȻƵ,50ȻƵ continued Vanderkop.

Caitlin Hall, a founding member of the Minto Pride committee, told council many people who signed the petition wanted to have their names redacted as signatures were gained in an “unethical” way.

Included in the meeting agenda are two letters from Minto residents wanting their names removed from the petition.

The writers claim the person who asked them to sign the petition was not completely honest about its goal.

“When they came to my house we were out playing with my kids, and an older lady came up and said, ‘We are petitioning for another crosswalk for kids in Harriston,'” one woman stated in an email to the town.

When she discovered “what it was actually for” she was “so taken back and embarrassed that I signed something like that,” she added.

Another man who wanted his name removed from the petition suggested he too was not told about its “intentions and implications.”

He said he supports all efforts “to make Minto a more inclusive and welcoming place for everyone.”

The petition itself makes no specific mention of any 2SLGBTQIA+ items, including Pride banners/flags or rainbow crosswalks.

Asked for comment the day after the council meeting, Turton acknowledged the town is working on a flag and banner policy, but stressed the municipality wants to remain inclusive.

50ȻƵWe are a very inclusive community and we50ȻƵre trying to continue down that road,50ȻƵ he told the Advertiser.

He added, 50ȻƵPeople have opinions, but we’re going to deal with it and do the right things.50ȻƵ

In a statement, the Minto Pride committee supported the delegation’s right to bring its concerns to council, but took issue with the claim the delegation just wants things to be “neutral.”

“Neutrality is language that is often used as a weapon to support the status quo, to support the way things have been in the past,” the Pride committee stated.

Minto Pride noted public signs that list local churches, while important, are also not neutral, “Yet they have not been targeted in the fight for ‘neutrality.'”

The committee added removing Pride banners “would be sending a very negative message of who is and isn50ȻƵt welcome in our town.”