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Last Sunday I participated in the Pride London Festival parade for the first time. I had been out to see and support it before, and was very excited to be a part of it even though I didn’t entirely know what to expect.

I walked through Queen’s Park, headed to the Western Fair Market parking lot where all the floats and different groups were assembling. As I walked I found a group of people listening to a speech being made by a woman behind a podium draped in a rainbow flag.

I discovered after that the speaker was Karen Low, United Church Minister and co-founder of a “Centre for Spiritual Wellness and Exploration”, called Sabbath Place. She was delivering a sermon before the parade, speaking about sexual acceptance and spirituality, and those that are suffering may be the people spiritual centres should be reaching out to most, instead of turning away. She concluded with a soulful prayer of compassion and connection with all those that have been persecuted, struggling with identity and isolation, and for those that continue to struggle today. She and her partner Debra Low were extremely welcoming and interested in speaking with me more about their beliefs and organization, I look forward to connecting with them further.

Feeling very encouraged and ready to join others for the parade, I soon came to the parking lot. I knew that the parade has been growing every year, but I still wasn’t prepared for the sight that awaited me. Along with the main floats, organizations including the LPS, OPP, Children’s Aid Society, TD Bank, Rogers Media, London Roller Durby, London NDP, London Liberals (who I was marching with) and many others were there, loud and proud.

It was terrific to see so many people come out in support. For the second year in a row Mayor Fontana was there, NDP MP Irene Mathyssen and MPP Theresa Armstrong joined their party and Ontario Ministers Chris Bentley, Deb Matthews, and Kathleen Wynne joined us.

As we got underway after 12:30, we watched as all kinds of different groups fell into the procession, until we joined in behind the OPP. The crowds watching the parade were somewhat sparse at first, a combination of supporters and curious onlookers watching from their porches. As we got closer to downtown, spirits swelled as the crowds thickened, with many people cheering and showing their support with flags and rainbow clothing, including a massive house with multicoloured streamers flying from the porch and windows.

The only low point was a group of 5 or so people near the downtown, silently holding signs with short sections of Bible scripture saying homosexuality is sin. They mostly had the same message since they don’t have much material to work with. The sight frustrated me, but as someone with me pointed out, at least they were doing it silently. For the parade’s part, there were many calls of “No it’s not!” and “We love you anyway!”. The atmosphere remained jubilant, and we were soon past them.

And then…

And then, we saw a group holding signs like this, wearing t-shirts with the simple message “I’m sorry”.

Simple, and so beautiful. The group smiled and offered their arms to anyone that wanted a hug. Many from the parade stopped to thank them for their message and accept their offer. There were more than a few tears.

As we came into the downtown, I was overwhelmed by just how many people were there to watch and cheer. So many people in bright clothing, waving flags greeted us as we made our way to the end of the parade at the Festival’s new home in Victoria Park.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Pride and why it matters as I wrote in this Metro article. I don’t often talk or write about my faith, but it is something I deeply struggle with. I belong to the community of First Baptist London, identify as a follower of Jesus, and I believe that there is no sin attached to one’s sexual orientation. I want this to be the first in a blog series about faith, homosexuality, all the reasons why they don’t need to be mutually exclusive, and why faith communities should be especially welcoming to everyone in the LGBTQ2 community. I hope to learn more about this entire issue, meditate on what it is I believe, and write about it as I go.

If you’d like to discuss this with me and share your insight, I’d be very glad to hear from you! You can always reach me over twitter at @briangibson13 as well as on Facebook.

The debate about a third straight 0% tax freeze continues as Council will be discussing the target again at their next session Tuesday July 24.

Much has been written about it, most recently this piece on citizens asking Council to raise their taxes. Several blog posts have been written about this issue, with some being written in response to others. In support of raising taxes Susan Toth wrote this and Abe Oudshoorn wrote two articles. In support of 0% Andrew Culver wrote this, and Chad Callander wrote this. As well, I covered why I think 0% is the wrong decision in my last Metro article.

What can you do with this information?

There are many ways to get involved. If you’d like to discuss what’s been happening at City Hall and across the city, Citizens Corps will be hosting Pints & Politics at Winks Eatery on July 18 to discuss city politics over a friendly drink, specifically “Why people choose to come to London and why people choose to leave London”. All are welcome, the Facebook page for Citizen Corps is here, and the event page is here.

I also encourage you to think about this important issue and get in contact with your member of Council to share your thoughts. If you contact Council through e-mail before 4:00pm Friday July 20 and cc City Clerk Cathy Saunders in your e-mail, it will be included in the Council agenda. Abe has included contact information for all of Council at the end of this post. City Council information can also be found here.

This is the letter I’m submitting to City Council:

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To the Mayor and members of Council,

I would like to thank those members that are advocating for a balanced approach to taxation in the 2013 budget, following the staff recommendation to moderately raise taxes while making some cuts to make the difference. I would also like to ask those members that advocate for a third straight o% tax increase to reconsider.

I would love to see my property taxes remain the same, everyone would! However, I don’t believe a 4-year 0% tax freeze is achievable without severe cuts to city services. I absolutely believe the city should be creative and work to find efficiencies wherever possible to provide Londoners with the best service at the least cost. I’m confident city departments have worked hard to find these efficiencies in the first two years of the tax freeze.

I also believe we should be spending wisely. Instead of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on light shows and remodeling the Forks of the Thames, we should be investing that money in community programs, infrastructure and culture.

That is why I advocate for a balanced approach. A tax increase of at least 5.8% is needed to maintain city budgets exactly where they are now, while another 0% increase would demand a further $25M be found to cover the shortfall. I believe a goal of 3.5% is most prudent, to work to further trim where possible without unduly harming either taxpayers or city services/staff.

We’re told low tax rates encourage business, something London desperately needs right now. However, I believe this focuses on only half of the issues facing our city. We are also struggling to retain the talented graduates of Western and Fanshawe that come to our city every year, and Londoners that have grown up here. Students and new graduates need jobs, but they also need a city they are willing to call home, a city they can be proud of. This can only happen if City Hall shows it is willing to properly invest in our community.

Many services are under consideration for cuts to achieve 0% next year. Less landscaping, street cleaning, park maintenance, slashing our public transit system by more than 20,000 hours, less sidewalk clearing in winter, higher fees for public services; these are just a few on the list. A city with an abysmal public transit system, marred by substandard maintenance and infrastructure, without culture and service investment hardly sounds like a city of opportunity.

We are a global city, attempting to attract a global market. Lower taxes may help induce business, but we also need to be a city people want to live in. If our neighbours like Kitchener-Waterloo, Guelph and the GTA, continue to make strides to update their cities, their services, their culture and their infrastructure as we put everything on hold until the economy improves, we will find ourselves further behind every day.

I came to London to study urban planning technology at Fanshawe. Once graduated I married, purchased a house and have been fortunate to start a small business. I love London, and although I can perform my work from any location, we have chosen to make London home. However, I am concerned that not enough investment is being made to make our city the absolute best it can be. For this reason I ask you to rethink o%.

Thank you for your time, and consideration. If you’d like to contact me, I can be reached at this address and the numbers provided, I’d be glad to further discuss this complex issue with you.

Brian Gibson, Ward 2