The Okanagan Pride Committee says it is thrilled that Kelowna Mayor Walter Gray has proclaimed Aug. 12 to 19 Pride Week in Kelowna.
“This proclamation will be met with great enthusiasm and support in the local queer community, signaling that Kelowna is an inclusive, diverse and welcoming city for everyone,” said Raymond Koehler, chairman of the Okanagan Pride Festival Committee. “We welcome the continued commitment of the City of Kelowna to embrace Okanagan Pride, testament to the municipality’s belief that that everyone should enjoy the same rights, responsibilities and protections as all British Columbians and Canadians, as they contribute together to the social, cultural and economic betterment and well-being of the city, and that equality matters.”
For Gray, it marks the first time he has has signed a civic proclamation for the local gay, lesbian and transgender community since 2000, when a B.C. Human Rights tribunal found him guilty of discrimination after he refused, as mayor, to include the word “gay” in a requested proclamation for Gay Pride Day in 1997.
As a result of the ruling against him, Gray stopped signing all proclamations during his next six years as mayor.
When his successor, Sharon Shepherd took office in 2006, she reinstated the practice of the mayor signing proclamations for local groups, including the gay, lesbian and transgender community.
Gray said signing the proclamation this time was not a hard decision for him as he had vowed to do so during the election campaign.
He said he now believes his defence of his action in 1997, as a freedom of speech issue, was wrong. And he added, he believes he has changed over the last 15 years.
“Fifteen years ago, I would not have put it on the agenda to write to the (Union of B.C. Municipalities) to have Stop the Violence as a presenter at its upcoming meeting with its position on legalizing marijuana,” said Gray, referring to another issue considered controversial by some.
“My position then would have been it’s illegal and that’s it. But things change and so do people.
As for his past action regarding pride proclamations, “this is now and that was then,” he said.
Gray said he and Koehler worked together on the wording of the proclamation for the upcoming Pride Week event and both were very happy with the outcome.
He pointed another area where the city showed it is supportive of diversity in the community, the quick approval of the public display of a large menorah in Waterfront park to mark Hanukkah this year.
This year, Okanagan Pride Week will take place Aug. 12 through 19 with the theme being celebrating diversity.
During the week, the pride movement’s rainbow flag will fly over city hall.
Events during the eight-day festival in Kelowna will include a spiritual gathering, movie screening of cult classic Rocky Horror Picture Show, a concert featuring singer and songwriter Amy Bishop, a golf tournament, beach volleyball, a community barbeque, a Pride dance and a champagne brunch.
Organizers say several of the events are free to attend, everyone in the community is welcome and many of the events will be family friendly.
Koehler said local businesses in the community have rallied around this year’s Okanagan Pride festival, which is now in its sixth year.
“We are extremely pleased with the level of engagement and support that Kelowna businesses and our media sponsors have shown to Okanagan Pride this year,” said Koehler. “The business and media community in Kelowna has rallied around Pride and brought a momentum and energy to the festival that is tangible. As we promote Okanagan Pride to residents and visitors, this energy is sure to translate into growing attendance levels, a positive impact on the local economy by a sought-after demographic, and most-importantly, a highlight of the summer for many, many people.”