Markstay resident Brandy Joly was very happy when she saw a Pride feature in the June issue of the Markstay-Warren Community Newsletter. Issued by the municipality of Markstay-Warren, Joly and her partner, along with their two adult children, were pleased to see the support for the 2SLGBTQ+ community.
That changed the very next month, July, when the community newsletter contained within it a brand new opinion feature, a chance to comment on the news of the area, as well as the features of the previous month’s newsletter.
In a post that was anonymous, by request of the writer, the opinion piece spoke to the residents' offence to June’s pride month feature.
“We, the taxpayers finally can have a say in your newsletter, but your June 1st, 2021 community newsletters feature of the LGBTQ+ pride month celebration was very offensive to me and my husband. I’m sure the other feature of the months will explain to us why our OPP in Warren is moving onwards. Now, what are we supposed to do with rowdy pool parties, loud music, and stupidity by our neighbourhood people who couldn’t care less for anyone but themselves.”
When Joly read the opinion piece, she was deeply unhappy with the writer, but also, with her municipal leaders.
She posted her concerns to Facebook on July 14, on her personal page and also to the Residents for a Better Markstay-Warren community Facebook group. The post on the group now has more than 70 comments. You can find it here.
In it, Joly addresses the community she loves.
“This is a community that I have always been accepted by and supported by, and it is very disheartening to read such things in our community newsletter,” wrote Joly. “I said to my partner last month in June that I was extremely proud and happy that our community supported and posted about LGBTQ+. However, July's newsletter is not reflecting June at all.”
Joly wrote that the opinion shouldn’t have been published as it is biased and prejudiced, something the newsletter itself states is unacceptable. Above the area for comment is the description and rules of what will be published and specifically states that: “Each post within this category is subject to review and may not be printed if it contains anything deemed not acceptable, including racism, sexism, attacking a person, etc.”
Joly’s post also contains a note about the editor of the newsletter. Joly spoke to the editor after the newsletter was published and included a note about that conversation in her post. “When the editor was addressed about this and why it was acceptable,” the post read, “they also had concerns and brought them to the ‘powers that be’ and were told to publish it anyway.”
When asked about the opinion piece by Sudbury.com, the editor of the newsletter did not wish to comment.
After Joly contacted the municipal office of Markstay-Warren on July 14, a letter was published July 15 on the Municipality of Markstay-Warren’s website. Though signed by CAO Rheal Forgette, it is described as a statement on behalf of the municipality. It reads:
“Dear LGBTQ+ Community,
On behalf of the Municipality of Markstay-Warren, I sincerely regret you were offended by the anonymous opinion expressed in the July, 2021 newsletter regarding the PRIDE month celebration article published in the June 2021 article. Although it is one person’s opinion as suggested in the article, it does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of any staff or Council of the Municipality of Markstay-Warren. We take pride in our community’s diversity. We will be reviewing our publishing guidelines for the newsletter to ensure situations like this may be avoided in the future.”
While it is listed as a letter of apology on the website, Joly disagrees with that classification. “It’s a letter of regret, as far as I'm concerned,” said Joly. “Because there was no admission, no apology whatsoever. There was no sorry.”
Angered by the response, Joly decided to speak at a city council meeting scheduled for July 19. As it was last minute, she was only able to ask questions of the councillors, rather than present. The meeting was virtual, hosted on Zoom. Both the Mayor Steve Salonin and CAO Rheal Forgette were present.
“I had questions for the panel, which was the mayor and CAO,” Joly told Sudbury.com in an interview. “I wanted to know why it was published in the first place, I wanted to know who authorized the publication, (questions) which I was not given an answer to.”
Joly said she also wants to know how the segment was submitted in the brand new section. “I wanted to know how there was even a segment submitted, because it's a brand new section.” Finally, said Joly, she wanted to know “how they were going to rectify it.”
Others from the community spoke out at the meeting as well, in support of Joly. Kara Houle, a Markstay resident, shared her feelings at the meeting.
“When I saw the post from Brandy (Joly), it saddened me to see that people still hold these homophobic views, “said Houle. “But what I found most disheartening was the fact that this was published in our community paper and distributed to everyone, even though the guidelines of this article specify that anything that is discriminative in nature will not be published.”
She said she, too, was displeased with the statement from the CAO. “His lack of understanding made me worry that these views were also his,” Houle told Sudbury.com. “In his statement address to the LBGTQ+ Community he blamed them for being offended and stated that this article was not ‘necessarily’ the views of the council.”
Houle said she wanted to speak at council with Joly to express her concerns with the lack of judgment shown by the CAO, “in publishing this article and the terrible excuse for an apology he released.” At the meeting, Houle said she explained that she felt the release of the article singled out community members and made them feel unwelcome. She said both CAO and the mayor gave her a similar response.
“Our mayor stated that this is my opinion, just like the writer of the article has theirs,” said Houle. “He accused me of not being accepting of others opinions and said I was doing the exact same thing by singling out Mr. Forgette (the CAO).”
Joly was also unhappy with the response from the mayor and CAO.
“I was pretty much told during the council meeting that it was just my opinion and that we all just need to get along.”
Joly said, “the mayor even told me that everyone is entitled to their opinions and the Toronto Sun posts stuff like this all the time.” Joly said both CAO and mayor stuck to their message of “we all just need to get along.”
Joly said she will continue to push for answers to her questions and also look to the integrity commissioner for help. She said one person who spoke at the council meeting had already considered it.
In response to the issue, Sudbury.com offered the municipality a chance for an interview. Mayor Steve Salonin answered by email.
Speaking on behalf of the municipality, Salonin said the future of the category in the newsletter was being reviewed. When asked about the origins of the category, Salonin stated, “The editor had been working on introducing this section to the newsletter when the author had made an inquiry to the editor to see if they could publish their opinion about the June feature in the next newsletter. That being said, the editor introduced this new column in the July newsletter.”
As to the anonymity, “The author had made that request and it conformed to the guidelines at that time and the editor did know who the author was,” stated Salonin.
He also added a clarifying statement. “Let me reassure everyone again,” wrote Salonin, “that the views of the person who wrote that letter do not reflect my personal views or ideals, nor that of our council or our community at large. We recognize that we have a diverse community and will do our best to try to be as inclusive as possible and maintain harmony amongst everyone in our community.”
Joly said that she is still upset at the opinion piece and it’s placement. “There's no need for that in this century,” she said. “And certainly not in a community newsletter.”
Joly said she is still pursuing better representation for the 2SLGBTQ+ members of her community and that she is overwhelmed by the support she received on her post.
“It’s a small community and it means a lot.”
She said in addition to the supportive comments on Facebook, she received personal messages from neighbours offering to help with anything she needed.
Joly said she moved to Markstay to raise her children in a small and welcoming community and she is still very proud to call Markstay home.