A rainbow flag the size a hand displayed upon a door may seem a small thing, but to a person who struggles for acceptance within their family or their society because of their sexual orientation, that flag is a symbol of inclusion. It lets a person know they may enter and be welcomed into a home free of judgment, and it lets them know there are friends within.
On a muggy afternoon in late June, a day after some 2 million people celebrated in Toronto’s 39th annual Pride Parade, the Village of Winston Park made its own history with a parade of its own. Friends from Kitchener advocacy groups such as Spectrum and Community Justice Initiatives gathered with residents, team members, family members and volunteers to honour the true spirit of inclusion. With four small rainbow flags placed at each Village entrance, the community announced that all are welcome here.
Team members and residents have been working towards this event for more than two years, and not without challenges. While much progress has been made towards a more accepting society as a whole, thanks to countless advocacy and education efforts over the decades, many older adults in the LGBTQ community remain fearful that they may have to deny their identify should they require support in a long-term care environment.
Prejudice and discrimination still exist, unfortunately, and Winston Park wanted to make it clear that it will not be tolerated within its community
“I’m 72 years old and we spent many activist years fighting for equality and fighting for recognition and acceptance of our relationships,” says Diane Kilby, “and then when we’re old enough to go into a retirement or nursing home, many of us feel we have to go back in the closet because we’re afraid.”
When she heard Winston Park was working towards this day, she chose to offer her experience and wisdom as a friend from the community in support of an initiative she says is very important.
“This has been a two year process here working with the local group, Spectrum, and working with residents to develop attitudes of positivity and acceptance and working with staff to go though this whole process so that if someone is gay or lesbian and is already here, they might feel a little bit more comfortable about saying ‘this is who I am.’
“For those of us outside in the community, it says Winston Park is a safe and welcoming space.”
Joan Schiller has lived at Winston Park for six years and says this day, while special because it officially marks the culmination of effort, really shouldn’t be. It’s really just a nice way to get everyone together “and recognize each other as friends.”
And true friendship extends well beyond concepts of sexual orientation.
Paul Prendergast, another Winston Park resident, jokes that if he was accepted with such open arms at Winston Park, then they’ll accept just about anyone. However, he realizes how important this day is after speaking with people about the importance of the rainbow flags in the windows.
“I guess there might be some places that are bigoted,” Paul says, “but I can’t imagine why.”
Acceptance, he says, is the natural way for people and he’s grateful to be part of a community that offers it to all.