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Martha Muzychka: Building community, one rainbow crosswalk at a time

Rainbow crosswalks, like this one in front of the town office, were first installed in Port aux Basques almost two years ago.
A rainbow crosswalk in Port aux Basques. — SaltWire Network file photo

She comes in colours ev’rywhere
She combs her hair
She’s like a rainbow
Coming, colours in the air
Oh, everywhere

Not for nothing has the Rolling Stones’ song “She’s a Rainbow” has been making itself a daily earworm in my ears for the last two weeks.

Martha Muzychka
Martha Muzychka

 

The Springdale town council has decided, not once but twice, that it will not support a rainbow painted crosswalk, with the mayor saying council denied the request “on account of the precedent we felt would be created.”

I’m not sure what precedent Mayor Dave Edison means. Is it recognizing that there are LGBTQ students in Springdale? Is it acknowledging that there are or were LGBTQ adults living in Springdale?

It can’t be because Springdale would be the first to paint a rainbow crosswalk. St. John’s has done it already, and will again, given that the last one has faded.

The Town of Logy Bay-Middle Cove-Outer Cove just announced it will paint two in the midst of the furor surrounding Springdale. The council in that 2,000-person community didn’t wait to be asked by a Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA); it unanimously approved the suggestion brought forward by a town councillor.

The first news story broke almost two weeks ago when the council voted against approving the request from the GSA at Indian River High School. The social media firestorm was spectacular, with more than one person offering to buy paint, gather brushes, set up carpools and GoFundMe’s.

Mayor Edison, who cast the deciding vote against the initiative, said he was concerned the rainbow crosswalk would divide rather than unite the community. In the second meeting where students made their case, the town said, post-vote, they would look at other measures such as flying the pride flag or installing a rainbow picnic table in a park.

In the grand scheme of things, not painting a rainbow crosswalk doesn’t sound like it would make a difference. Nonetheless, it does.

When I first heard about the situation, I was surprised. Many schools now have GSAs. Many communities fly the Pride flag, host marches and paint rainbow sidewalks.

It is by no means a perfect environment, but we are taking steps towards change, both visibly and policy-wise.

In the grand scheme of things, not painting a rainbow crosswalk doesn’t sound like it would make a difference. Nonetheless, it does. News reports included comments from a former resident talking about how important such symbols are to young people as they grow into their identities, especially as LGBTQ teens.

I was particularly struck by an interview with a trans youth from central Newfoundland. Elliott Blackmore told the CBC, “It always made me really happy, to be like, I’m OK here. I can be who I am. These people know that I exist, and they accept me.”

But Elliott also knows their uneventful coming out isn’t like that for everyone. They have one question for the Springdale council, and I think it is one worth asking: “I want to know why it is such a big deal for them. LGBT people can feel accepted by a small gesture, and why does that hurt them so much? Why does that cause them so much turmoil?”

I understand people don’t like change. After all, we had a community here change its name from Gayside to Baytona because of the harassment its residents received in the early ’80s.

But this is 2018, and we should be able to accept the power of building and creating positive symbols for inclusion in all our communities. It disappoints me that Springdale chose this approach, even as it made overtures to the students.

That the mayor has offered alternatives is commendable, but shouldn’t the council listen to what was asked of them?

The students were asking for a visible statement of inclusion, a reminder of the group recognized by the presence of a rainbow. You might overlook a picnic table in a park; there’s no overlooking a crosswalk.

A crosswalk is something most everyone uses, whether you walk, stroll, drive, run or wheel. They are everywhere and they must be respected. And so are LBTQ people. It would be good to be reminded of that.

Other columns by this author

Martha Muzychka: Mob mentality driving vigilante justice online

Martha Muzychka: Content may be king online, but context should be emperor

Martha Muzychka is a writer and consultant living in St. John’s.

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