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Kelowna mayor endorses Pride Week for first time in a decade

A kiss that was 15 years in the making was finally exchanged Saturday on a stage in Kelowna.

A kiss that was 15 years in the making was finally exchanged Saturday on a stage in Kelowna. The master of ceremonies was doing most of the smooching, but Mayor Walter Gray was happily taking it on the cheek, smiling and laughing as he did what he refused to do in 1997.

To the delight of about 50 people gathered in Mission Creek Regional Park, Gray read a proclamation declaring Pride Week.

"I've been looking forward to this for quite some time," Gray said before reading the declaration.

Among other things, it says that Kelowna is a safe and tolerant city that respects diversity, and strives for equality among all of its residents.

However, it also acknowledged what to many is an obvious reality - that gays, lesbians and others are often victims of discrimination due to their sexual orientation.

"Never thought I'd see this day," one of the people gathered in front of the stage said.

In 1997, Gray refused to sign a proclamation in support of Gay and Lesbian Pride Day, saying it would offend many of his constituents.

That brought Gray a rebuke from the B.C. Human Rights Commission, which ruled he had engaged in an act of discrimination.

In response, Gray refused to sign any proclamations, a stance he maintained until being defeated by Sharon Shepherd in the 2005 municipal election.

When he ran to regain his old job last year, the inevitable question of a pride proclamation came up early in the campaign.

Gray suggested that times had changed and he would sign such a proclamation, if a majority of his councillors thought he should.

They did, and Gray signed the document several months ago with little fanfare.

His conversion did not come without a few caveats, however. He suggested it was due in large part to a "new breed" of Pride Week organizers who, he said, had worked to create an "event of inclusiveness."