Saanich councillor wants LGBTQ events to be more inclusive of ‘straights’

Coun. Fred Haynes said Monday night he wants local Lesbian Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) events to be more inclusive.

“When we talk about LGBTQ events, it’d better be inclusive,” he said. “It could be L, G, B, T, Q and Straight, because in recognizing these events as just as LGBTQ, how does somebody, who is straight as a demographic, also participate without being outed as other than straight?” he asked. Haynes said he himself does not have an answer to that question. “I want to raise that as a recognition. I myself like to attend these events. I am a [happily] married heterosexual. That is who I identify as. So that is just a little sensitivity I bring to the equation there.”

Haynes made these comments, as council received and approved several recommendations found in the final report from Saanich’s LGBTQ subcommittee tasked with advising the Healthy Saanich Advisory Committee on issues concerning the LGBTQ community.

Haynes made these comments while commenting on a recommendation directing staff to investigate the mechanics and costs of designing a some window sticker that would welcome all citizens. “The idea may be to embed it [recognition of the LGBTQ community] in a larger welcoming sticker. We have heard some concerns about how much is enough, how far we should go? So there may be a role to play, to look at that sticker that is welcoming to everybody, but inside that sticker, we make sure that we recognize the importance of this community.” Haynes then made his comments about the need for more inclusive LGBTQ events.

Measures approved Monday include among others a universal policy to raise the Pride and Trans flag outside Municipal Hall during the region’s annual Pride week. This year’s event will take place between July 1 to July 9. Saanich raised the Pride flag at Municipal Hall for the first time.

While council approved the measures unanimously, levels of rhetorical support for the recommendations varied. Coun. Leif Wergeland warned against moving too quickly in questioning the need for a sticker recognizing the LGBTQ community. “Do we need still to point out the obvious?” he asked. Coun. Dean Murdock however dismissed those concerns. “On the idea of something being obvious, it may seem obvious to some of us that everyone is welcome,” he said. “But that may not be the impression that is conveyed to everybody.”

Alluding to some of the findings in the report, Murdock said it is very important for Saanich to make it obvious that everybody is welcome. The report finds among other points that members of Saanich’s community experience a high rate of harassment.

“Most of the respondents (34 or 65.38%) reported having experienced some form of harassment, ranging from silent harassment to physical violence,” it read.

The report prepared by the committee over two months in under the leadership of Royal Road’s Matthew Heinz combined online and off-line questions in asking respondents to identify their their biggest LGBTQ concerns in Saanich and the kinds of actions Saanich should take to support the health and well-being of the LGBTQ community.

Fifty-two individuals completed the online survey and Saanich received 24 submitted comments through a drop box at the University of Victoria.

Perhaps the most pressing finding concerns the level of harassment that members of the LGBTQ community experience.

Overall, Saanich’s LGBTQ community identified a lack of understanding concerning LGBTQ experiences, silent discrimination, social isolation, physical safety in washroom and other public spaces and “lack of services, programming and facilities that are visibly and proactively inclusive of transgender and gender non-conforming experiences” as their biggest concerns.

Specifically, respondents identified community recreation centres, public transportation, parks, and facilities aimed seniors as Saanich locations, where they reported “being least comfortable being out as LGBTQ.” This said, the report also highlighted various improvements including language changes in official documents, bathroom conversions in several public facilities and the hosting of various events.

Council received the report and forwarded it to staff for implementation following discussion. Staff become more aware of the LGBTQ ‘lens,’ said Kelli-Ann Armstrong, senior manager, recreation, told council in a memo. Saanich, she said, has and will continue to make changes to programs, practices and policies to improve service.

However, some of the more significant recommendations found in the report, such as the introduction of gender-neutral washrooms did not get a hearing Monday.

Receipt of the report also marked a public sign-off for the LGBTQ Sub-Committee, whose terms of references had limited its existence to one year.

Plant said it is very apparent that the committee raised the level of awareness as the staff report shows. “I believe the committee’s work has really made a difference and I am hopeful several of the committee members will be used (as per the staff report) as informal consultants on some proposals going forward,” said Plant.