British Columbia

Chilliwack school board approves rainbow crosswalk in parking lot after heated debate

Chilliwack’s Board of Education voted Tuesday evening to paint a rainbow crosswalk in the school district parking lot.

City council recently rejected petition to install crosswalk downtown

The Board of Education voted 4-3 in favour of painting a rainbow crosswalk. (Jordan Stead/The Associated Press)

Chilliwack's board of education voted Tuesday evening to paint a rainbow crosswalk in the school district parking lot.

The decision follows city council's rejection of a petition to install a rainbow walkway in the city's downtown on Sept. 3.

However, the school board's vote wasn't unanimous and came after heated debate.

"You can't claim that you are inclusive and do nothing. That is just paying lip service," said board chair Dan Coulter, who introduced the motion.

"If we truly believe in what we say, we need to take action."

He said painting a rainbow crosswalk in front of the board office would show that the board cares about all members of the community.

However, several trustees raised concerns, including Barry Neufeld, who worried about the message it would send to their colleagues in city hall.

"It's almost as if we're giving a finger and basically overruling what they decided," said Neufeld, adding the crosswalk would strain relations.

Trustee Jared Mumford countered Neufeld, saying it would be absurd for the board to worry about what city staff thinks over decisions made in the best interest of the district. 

"We don't care what the city thinks about our decisions," said Mumford. "We care about our staff and our students."

Chilliwack's board of education, from left: Trustee David Swankey, trustee Heather Maahs, trustee Darrell Furgason, board chair Dan Coulter, board vice-chair Willow Reichelt, trustee Jared Mumford and trustee Barry Neufeld. (Chilliwack School District)

'I don't know where this is going to stop'

The debate's most passionate moments arose between trustee Heather Maahs and board vice-chair Willow Reichelt.

Maahs argued a rainbow crosswalk would highlight the concerns of one group over others. She said it would be an insult to other marginalized groups like autistic, dyslexic and refugee students.

"I'm greatly troubled by where this is going and I don't know where this is going to stop," said Maahs.

Reichelt — whose child has autism — strongly disagreed with Maahs' position, saying the crosswalk would send a message to everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, that Chilliwack is an inclusive community.

And while she acknowledged she can't change the minds of community members who hold homophobic or transphobic views, she said she will "do everything [she] can to make sure their discriminatory beliefs aren't echoed by the board of education."

In the end, the motion passed by a vote 4-3. The crosswalk is expected to cost the board just under $400.

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