Last week, Robert Filmer spoke publicly about being the first openly gay councillor in Qualicum Beach. A week later, the town raised a Pride Flag for the first time.
When Filmer spoke to the NEWS last week, he said he would like to see the town officially acknowledge Pride. It’s been a quick turnaround – the town said they will now acknowledge an official Pride Week from June 23 to 30, which has never been done before.
“The article was posted on Wednesday and Brian (Wiese), the mayor, contacted me on Friday and said ‘what do you want to do for Pride month?’ and I said, ‘well, a great step would be to recognize it,’” said Filmer.
Luckily, Filmer collects flags and had one ready to go for the raising. From there, Filmer said the town put together a ceremony and raised a flag outside the town hall on June 23.
He said he’s felt supported by the town since speaking openly about being gay. He said all of council and the mayor reached out and voiced their support, as well as town staff. The City of Parksville also reached out in support.
“Personally, for me, it’s a big step. Not only the mayor, but the rest of council and all of senior staff basically standing up with the message and putting their support not only behind me, but behind that whole group, and that meant a lot,” he said.
A press release from the town about the event said they want to work toward becoming a place where the LGBTQS2+ community feels accepted and supported. Parksville-Qualicum MLA Michelle Stilwell sent her support as well.
Wiese said he’s glad Filmer brought the idea forward – he’s not sure when it would have happened without him.
“I don’t think it was really in the cards, it’s not something this town has ever really looked at, I don’t believe,” he said. “I commend his bravery moving forward with this.”
Wiese said he feels optimistic about the future of council now that they have some diversity, he thinks it might even help everyone get along better.
Wiese said he heard of the article about Filmer last week and texted him a “kudos, proud of ya” and from there, they started talking about how to acknowledge Pride.
“Pride week is an important week for the LGBT2Q community, that celebrates their diversity, commemorates their battles for legal rights and social acceptance, and serves as a reminder to continually seek equality for all,” said Wiese in a release. “It is important that we continue to represent and honour the various groups in our community, which includes our LGBT2Q residents. We are dedicated to providing a safe and inclusive place for all people, of every sexual orientation, gender, race, and religion.”
Filmer also felt supported by the general public – he said he received nothing but positive feedback. He wasn’t sure it would go that way due to some negative comments sent to him after he brought forward a motion in August 2019 to put in a rainbow sidewalk.
“The feedback, I’ve got tons of emails and phone calls from residents who just read it online, has all been fantastic,” he said.
Filmer said although the flag-raising is a great first step, it also shows the complex history and relationship the area has with the LGBTQ2S+ community.
“For me, it’s kind of bittersweet to be able to see the flag up there after living in the town for 22 years,” he said. “But for the town, I’m proud, extremely proud, because it’s a huge step forward.”
Ultimately, Filmer hopes the region can start to make more moves to become inclusive. He said he has already been in contact with the City of Parksville about ways the municipalities can start supporting the LGBTQ2S+ community.
“We’re not doing it for a photo-op and I wanted to make it clear that we’re not doing it for me either – I’m comfortable with who I am, but there are lots that aren’t,” said Filmer. “And that’s the reason why communities across the county do these types of celebrations is to one, help those who are struggling, but also to say sorry to those that in the past didn’t feel safe or welcome.”
Filmer said he’s looking forward to next year, when the town will hopefully be able to gather and acknowledge the week properly.
“This week of June is our first of many, hopefully,” said Filmer. “For next June, hopefully, COVID is gone and we can celebrate.”