On the eve of the Canterbury Pride festival, a bizarre row has erupted on Facebook.
Pride chairman Edd Withers has found himself accused of “inciting hatred” after a he posted screen shots and links of an argument which developed on Facebook about the rainbow flag flying over the Westgate Towers.
Earlier this week a Canterbury Journal article about the use of the Barretts site as student flats by the city’s Labour group leader Cllr Alan Baldock on a political discussion group rapidly descended into verbal fisticuffs over the Pride flag on the towers.
It has been flying over the 14th century structure in the lead up to tomorrow’s festival in the Dane John Gardens and replaced the Union Flag which flies for most of the year.
But this has angered those who feel that the national flag should be allowed to fly all the time.
Facebook user Lynette Coleman from Canterbury complained: “Why do homosexuals feel the need to fly the flag or go on marches.
“It’s not illegal to be homosexual so just get on with it.”
Mr Withers later published an excerpt of the conversation on the hugely popular Canterbury Residents Group Facebook page he manages.
This prompted to Ms Coleman to accuse him of “inciting hatred” and urging senior the city council’s Conservative leader Cllr Simon Cook and communities chairman Cllr Neil Baker to intervene.
In an online rant, she said: “The man you’ve given the job of running the Gay Pride march to, Edd Withers, is persisting in inciting hatred on his Canterbury Residents page by posting screenshots he’s taken from this page concerning the argument over replacing the Union flag on the Towers by the Gay Pride flag.
“Not the entire thread but sections of it to twist the argument and deliberately stir up hatred towards myself and other people.
“That is what it’s about.
“Nothing to do with being ‘anti-gay’ as can be seen by reading the thread in its entirety.
“I call on you both to stop him doing this in his capacity as organiser of Gay Pride Canterbury.”
Mr Withers, who is organising the city’s third Pride event, retorted that the only words which could be seen as inciting hatred Ms Coleman’s comments about “homosexuals [feeling] the need to fly a flag or go on marches?…[J]ust get on with it”.
He added: “Anyway, I’m out of this. Enjoy yourselves, I have one of the most loved, biggest and best events in the city to organise.”
Pride is expected to attract 10,000 to 15,000 people to Canterbury tomorrow and has developed into one of the most-loved events of the year.
It is supported by Conservative-controlled Canterbury City Council which has provided £2,000 in funding to organisers.
The city’s Labour group will have a stall at the festival while the local Conservative association is one of its major sponsors.
Responding to Ms Coleman’s comments, Cllr Baker said: “Gay Pride isn’t a CCC-managed, organised or commissioned event so neither Simon nor myself, with our councillor hats on, have any influence to bring to bear.”
Pride starts with a parade along the High Street at 11.30am. The main festival gets underway at the Dane John Gardens at 12.30pm.