Pride London received no notice from police on decision to raise flag: president

FILE - A pride flag flies on the Island Queen tourist boat in Kingston's harbour in Kingston, Ont., on June 13, 2016.
FILE - A pride flag flies on the Island Queen tourist boat in Kingston's harbour in Kingston, Ont., on June 13, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Lars Hagberg

Despite platitudes welcoming dialogue, the president of Pride London says police gave the organization no advanced notice of its response to a request that the Pride flag not be raised at police headquarters this year.

In a letter made public on July 13 but dated July 10, the Pride London team requested — in a move meant to demonstrate solidarity with Black Lives Matter London — that police refrain from raising the Pride flag this year.

Pride London said the decision was made in response to BLM London asking that organizations rethink their relationship with the police “and insist that they do better,” Pride London president Andrew Rosser told Global News Monday morning.

Read more: In solidarity with Black Lives Matter, Pride London asks police to refrain from raising Pride flag

Shortly after 4 p.m. Monday, the London Police Service and London Police Services Board issued a joint statement confirming that the Pride flag will still be raised at police headquarters.

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The statement said the LPS and LPSB understood the reasons for the request from Pride London and that they are taking the concerns seriously, but Chief Steve Williams added that “we also believe we owe it to our employees and the community to show our unwavering commitment to the LGBT2Q+, even as we acknowledge the work that needs to be done.”

Following the statement from the LPS and LPSB, London Police Association president Rick Robson posted to Twitter at 5:40 p.m. Monday in support of the decision by police. Robson said the association was “disappointed” to see the initial request from Pride London and “we cannot in good conscience support it.”

Robson told Global News on Tuesday that he sent an email to Rosser just before 7 p.m. July 10 offering to talk but had yet to hear back as of 2 p.m. Tuesday. Global News reached out to Williams for comment on Tuesday but had yet to hear back as of publication time.

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Speaking on The Craig Needles Show on Tuesday morning, Rosser told Global News he learned about the police decision to go ahead with flying the Pride flag through the media.

“I have to say, I was shocked at the media release, given that we have had a very open line of communication with the police for several years. To not have a call or an email in the at least 72 hours that they had the letter and then to learn about the media release from another media outlet was a bit shocking, personally.”

However, Rosser says he respects “any board decision,” noting that Pride London’s initial request was a difficult decision to reach that required extensive conversation between members.

“We don’t represent all LGBT2Q+ individuals and that’s really important and I think people miss that,” he said.

“We are a non-profit organization of the volunteers — I repeat: volunteers — that are doing the best we can. There is a call to action by another non-profit organization, Black Lives Matter, to further the conversation and clearly calls out organizations like ours to make a statement and re-evaluate our position with the police.”

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As evidence that Pride London does not speak for all members of the LGBTQ2 community, Coun. Shawn Lewis, London’s first openly gay councillor, has said he supports the decision by police to move forward with raising the flag on Friday.

“I shared this with Mr. Rosser yesterday. I also shared it with Chief Williams. I think that the London police should absolutely continue to fly the Pride flag,” he said.

“First of all, I know that there are members of the LGBT community who are members of the service — we should be showing our support for those officers. But beyond that, I’m really mindful of the very negative history that the London police service has had with the LGBTQ community in London over decades.

“In the last two, two-and-a-half decades there’s been a real shift — there’s been a genuine effort made to connect, to change the conversation — and it’s been a positive one and we should not devalue that work.”

Lewis suggested that “there are some lessons to be learned” from building the relationship between the LGBTQ2 community and police “that we could apply to help build better relations with the Black community as well.”

“I’ve indicated to the chief that I will be there on Friday morning for the flag-raising. Pride should be about inclusivity, not excluding people, and that has to include the members of the London Police Services from the LGBT community who serve our community every day.”

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Read more: Canada’s queer rights movement exists because of Black people — but that history is often ignored

But Rosser again raised the issue of communication, explaining that while he did receive an email from Lewis, they did not have a “personal talk.”

“I do like and respect Shawn a lot. I’ve known him for many years. My only comment would be that I would challenge him as a leader to actually reach out to Black Lives Matter and hear some of the issues directly,” Rosser said.

“I would challenge (any leaders in our community) before they react to things like this to make you actually sit down with Black Lives Matter and have those conversations.”