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Canada Mayor discriminated against gays, tribunal rules

The mayor of Kelowna has been found guilty of violating British Columbia's human-rights code by refusing to proclaim a "lesbian and gay pride day."

Walter Gray, mayor of the thriving Okanagan community since 1996, was hauled before B.C.'s human-rights tribunal after he agreed to proclaim only Lesbian and Gay Day, omitting the word "pride."

Mr. Gray told the tribunal that he did not approve of homosexuality and changed the wording so it would be "politically acceptable" to the city's 95,000 residents, who reacted "very negatively" to a gay-pride proclamation by a previous mayor.

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Tribunal member Carol Roberts said she agreed with complaints from local gays and lesbians who felt the wording change was a slap in the face and "tantamount to a political insult."

By refusing to issue the type of civic proclamation that was routinely available to other groups, Mr. Gray unlawfully discriminated against gays and lesbians because of their sexual orientation, Ms. Roberts ruled.

In her 28-page decision, Ms. Roberts recounted testimony from complainants who said they felt uneasy about being openly gay or lesbian in Kelowna.

One said he is forced to be careful when and where he goes because of concern that he may be physically harmed. Words such as "faggot" and "queer" are often shouted at him on the street. He testified that the phrase "lesbian and gay pride" signalled to the public that being lesbian or gay is not a source of shame.

Lawyer barbara findlay (she does not capitalize her name), who pursued the complaint on behalf of the Okanagan Rainbow Coalition, hailed the tribunal's ruling.

"It's important because it makes it clear that no one is allowed to assert public prejudices in the course of carrying out their public office," Ms. findlay said, adding that she expects similar proclamations to be sought across the province.

Mr. Gray, the mayor, said the decision has prompted him to stop issuing proclamations altogether.

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"If I don't do it for anyone, then I can never again be put in a position of discrimination," he said.

He added he feared proclaiming a gay pride day "would appear to endorse a lifestyle which, for moral reasons, I have difficulty with."

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