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North Bay marks 50th anniversary of partial decriminalization of homosexuality in Canada

'We were one of 50 communities selected to raise flags on this day for both the 50th anniversary of the decriminalization of being gay as well as today being the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia' Nick George

A special flag raising ceremony held at North Bay’s Lee Park marked the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalization of homosexuality in Canada.  

North Bay is one of just 50 communities across the country selected to take part in the Standing by our Colours project to mark this day in Canada’s history.  

Nick George spoke as co-chair of North Bay Pride.

“Today is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, so Ottawa Pride contacted us. They were selecting 50 communities across Canada, and we were one of them to be selected to raise flags on this day for both causes, the 50th anniversary of the decriminalization of being gay, as well as today being the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia,” said George.

“My message was to just be yourself. Celebrate who you are, and don’t stop fighting. We’ve come so far, and we need to keep fighting for our own rights.”

In the 1980’s Reverend Jane Howe was a young seminary student living in Toronto.

She remembers the bathhouse raids that took place in that city.

“It was before things started to be decriminalized. People showed up in the streets in huge numbers in Toronto to kind of push things along in terms of decriminalization and we’re standing here because of the history of some really brave LGBTQ people. So, we need to speak up and not be silent and that is why we’re here, raising the flag,” said Howe.

“I worked in a context where we really had to show up and speak out to push the church along, and it has come a long way. I think it is because people were brave, both allies and the people who were directly impacted. This is our way of speaking up and showing up and it is all good.”

Jason MacLennan says it is important to remember the steps that were taken half a century ago.  

“Today is very important to mark progress. Fifty years ago, today there was partial decriminalization in Canada around homosexuality. We still struggle in some areas, but it is really important to recognize that we did take a step forward and we have to remember that,” said MacLennan.

‘We also have to remember that there is a time for Pride organizations around the country that we still have struggles, we still have struggles in the community. People still lose their job over their sexuality today, and that’s not to mention the hate on social media, especially around Pride organizations. I know from North Bay Pride, we delete and block people daily because of their comments.”

MacLennan says education is key.

“Pride has an obligation to help educate our community, around those in the community because if you figure it out, the LGBT community makes up about 20 per cent of the population now. They figure it is a little higher than we used to think because people identify in different ways now, gender, sexuality, whatever it is that is how they identify, and it is really important to educate those that are not familiar with it.”   

In a statement, the Minister of Canadian heritage and Multiculturalism, Pablo Rodriquez said the federal government is pleased to support projects like Standing by our Colours.

“They raise awareness of the people and their struggles that led to the partial decriminalization of homosexuality 50 years ago,” stated Rodriquez.

“I am proud to acknowledge the rich contribution of the LGBTQ2+ community has made to Canada. We believe in freedom for every citizen, regardless or origin, race, religion, or sexual orientation. Canadians understand that if even one of us is not free to be who they are, then none of us are free.”