London celebrations

LFP ARCHIVES: The LGBTQ evolution of the town hall

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When Shawn Lewis became London’s first openly gay deputy mayor, it reminded us the painful past involving the city council and the local LGBTQ community. It was only a decade ago that a London mayor took part in the annual Pride Parade for the first time. This story about this landmark decision by Joe Fontana appeared on the front page of the July 6, 2011 print editions of the London Free Press:

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In the liberal city of Toronto, the far-right mayor gave a cold shoulder to his city’s gay pride celebration.

But in London, the oh-so conservative by reputation, the big-L liberal politician in the mayor’s chair has embraced our event – and plans to march in the Pride London Festival marquee parade this month.

This contrast between Rob Ford and Joe Fontana – two mayors whose political agendas share many similarities – could be proof, a local organizer hopes, that the London establishment has evolved and become fully inclusive.

“I always thought (this) was a long time coming, when you look across the country,” said Ken Sadler, a retired town clerk who sits on the Pride London Festival board. “I’m glad it’s over.

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“He (provides) a great sense of belonging, I think, for the gay community.”

Fontana is believed to be London’s first mayor to take part in the parade – and some say he is the first to attend part of the city’s celebration which was first held in 1982.

The political history of the event, of course, makes the mayor’s decision all the more remarkable.

In the late 1990s, then-Mayor Dianne Haskett sparked a political storm when she decided not to proclaim Gay Pride Week. A complaint from the Ontario Human Rights Commission resulted in a $10,000 fine and London was ordered to publish the proclamation.

Haskett’s successor, Anne Marie DeCicco-Best, was more supportive of the event – ​​publishing letters for her annual guide. But the organizers and his former colleagues do not remember his presence or his membership in the parade.

There was also a long battle in 2008 over whether to fly a Pride Flag in front of City Hall during the event. The council finally voted in this direction.

Fontana says he considered the decision easy.

“When I was asked, I said, of course I would participate,” he said. “I think it’s the right thing to do for the city.

“It’s about inclusion and respecting our diversity.”

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