MERRITT, B.C. – A decision by city council to reject a proposed rainbow crosswalk near a school in Merritt, B.C., has led community members to offer other locations for the colourful symbol of inclusion, says a high school teacher involved in the project.
Students in LGBTQ and Indigenous clubs at Merritt Secondary have been planning for years to have a crosswalk painted to promote inclusivity, but when the school district took the proposal to the city last week it was voted down by council.
Teacher Kati Spencer said she and the students were disappointed and frustrated at first.
“I had some righteous anger. Let’s put it that way,” she said. “We had so much support from the school board … we took it for granted that it was going to happen.”
The school district offered to pay for the rainbow’s installation and upkeep, and city staff recommended that council approve the proposal.
Mayor Neil Menard told council he was concerned that approving the rainbow crosswalk would set a precedent for other groups such as the hockey team and Rotary Club to request sidewalks or crosswalks be painted to reflect their organizations.
“I’m a bit worried that it may open a kind of a Pandora’s box for something like this, so I don’t support it. I can’t support it,” he said.
Asked in an interview if the decision could be interpreted as rejecting inclusivity, Menard said: “It has nothing to do with their lifestyle.”
“That’s their lifestyle and that’s all well and good, but they don’t have to take that … and make it obvious within the community, and push it on everybody else,” he said.
“We’re not exclusive of groups. It’s a good city. We’ve got great citizens. We’ve got a lot of citizens that don’t support that and didn’t want any crosswalks to be painted. They think it’s a distraction. They think it’s dangerous for drivers.”
While students may have lost the battle for the crosswalk, their efforts have gained wider support, Spencer said.
“This is now bigger than we imagined,” she said. “Coming out of this has actually been amazing, because it made all the support visible.”
A house across the street from the school has been adorned with rainbow curtains, a bakery offered to make rainbow cookies to take to city hall and a store began painting a rainbow outside the property, Spencer said.
Lawyers Kyla Lee and Paul Doroshenko also offered parking lots they own in the city’s downtown core for the students to paint.
“The rainbow has taken on a bigger meaning than just support or gay pride — it’s now we love you and accept you whoever you are,” Lee said.
Spencer said students were beaming when they saw Lee’s offer posted on Twitter.
They already had a contingency plan in place to paint a rainbow on school property if the city didn’t approve the crosswalk.
Spencer said they intend to make the installation of a rainbow walkway at the school a celebration. They’re also going to discuss the parking lot option with the school board and look at collaborating with as many groups as possible.
What’s happened has also given the symbol of the rainbow deeper meaning, she said.
“Kids in general, they’re seeing the town rally behind this and that may help people who feel alienated for any reason feel that, hey, it is safe here.”
— By Linda Givetash in Vancouver. Follow @Givetash on Twitter