PERSISTENCE has paid off for the Brisbane LGBTIQ Action Group (BLAG) after it was announced that the rainbow flag will be flown over Brisbane City Hall for this year’s International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT).

Following months of petitioning, meetings and the issue being raised in Brisbane City Council chambers, Lord Mayor Graham Quirk revealed yesterday that the flag — a symbol of LGBTI pride— would be raised at the Brisbane icon for the first time.

The announcement comes after a somewhat controversial year for council who made headlines last year after refusing to display an ad featuring two men kissing for Brisbane Queer Film Festival.

Council also came under fire for initially refusing to raise the Pride flag for IDAHOT, with the Lord Mayor at the time stating he was more interested in practical inclusion of the LGBTI community rather than symbolic gestures.

However, Brisbane eventually became the first city in Australia to light up its main bridge in rainbow lights to commemorate IDAHOT, held on May 17, and committed to the annual display every year for the foreseeable future.

Story Bridge on IDAHOT 2014 (Photo: David Alexander; Star Observer)

Story Bridge on IDAHOT 2014 (Photo: David Alexander; Star Observer)

The raising of the flag now brings Brisbane in line with both Sydney and Melbourne councils – along with dozens of smaller local councils – in displaying the symbol from its official buildings.

BLAG members, led by Phil Browne, spearheaded the charge for greater measures of LGBTI inclusion by council.

“In 2014 there were some controversies with council around LGBTIQ issues, but I want to thank the Lord Mayor for what is a very important decision to fly the flags at city hall for IDAHOT this year,” Browne said.

“It will be just amazing to think that an LGBTIQ kid will be able to see Brisbane’s most famous icon lit in rainbow lights, and this year with flags at city hall.”

Browne said symbolic acts of inclusion are powerful displays of support that contribute to a growing sense that Brisbane is a tolerant and welcoming city.

“If our ongoing actions and council’s support helps just one troubled LGBTIQ person struggling with discrimination, or prevents one suicide, all our work will be so, so worth it,” Browne said.

Following some confusion last year over council’s policy regarding non-Governmental flags flying at City Hall, the Lord Mayor said that after a review of practices, he was proud to be able to show how far the city had come.

“Council supports the message behind the International Day Against Homophobia which is why we are sharing this message of inclusiveness from our most iconic Brisbane landmarks,” Quirk said.

“Late last year council reviewed its longstanding practice regarding flags flown at City Hall. Council will now allow flags and banners that recognise significant city, state or national events to be flown at City Hall.”

The issue of the Pride flag was raised in council chambers last year by Cr Victoria Newton, who has worked with BLAG to see the matter through to its successful resolution.

“I want Brisbane to be known as an accepting and diverse place to live, and the first step towards that goal is sending a clear message that we support the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer community on this important day,” Newton said.

“I was disappointed last year when the Lord Mayor refused to allow the rainbow flag to fly outside City Hall because it sent the wrong message about Brisbane and how we value the people who live here.

“We could have avoided all of this controversy and upset if the conservative council did the right thing the first time they were asked. In this day and age, flying a rainbow flag shouldn’t be an issue.”

Cr Vicki Howard said that she was happy that the Lord Mayor had thrown his support behind IDAHOT and the raising of the flag.

Browne said that symbolic acts that displayed LGBTI inclusion were still necessary as discrimination was far from over.

“Over time, we are all realising that being LGBTIQ is something to be celebrated not feared, but bullying issues for young people, faith-related issues and lower awareness in non-metro areas have not gone away,” he said.

BLAG member Jess Rankine said that having the Pride flag flown over City Hall for IDAHOT would also acknowledge the homophobia she had lived through.

“It makes me feel that there is hope in the future for our community. A small gesture makes a big difference,” she said.

BLAG will be holding an IDAHOT community event in Brisbane on Sunday, May 17 in Queens Park between 11am-2pm. A viewing of the Story Bridge rainbow lighting will be held at Wilson Outlook Reserve in Bowen Terrace, New Farm from 5.30pm.

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