Rainbow crosswalks are more than symbols; they remind us to look in all directions
Crosswalks a great way to talk about who has power and who's vulnerable
Last winter, hurricane-force winds blew off half the traffic lights in St. John's. Every driver had to learn the Four-Way Stop Waltz — the one that goes: "1-2-3, 1-2-3, is it me? Do I go? Am I next? I hate this!"
I didn't have a car at the time, but to catch my bus I had to cross through one of the busiest intersections in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Imagine 12 backed-up lanes, no working lights, dozens of confused and frustrated drivers, and one lone, fleshy me on foot.
And yet I made it across, time and again, harried but unharmed.
As stressful as the situation was, as eager as the drivers were to go, when it was my turn to cross, they respected my right of way.
This is the power of the crosswalk.
Wanted: a show of support
Last week, students of Indian River High School in Springdale brought a petition to the town council asking them to paint a crosswalk near the school in rainbow colours.
Rainbows are a symbol of the LGBTQ community, and rainbow crosswalks have become a way for towns and cities to show support and acceptance for the queer people living in them.
The students, who were members of their school's Gender Sexuality Alliance, were looking for a similar show of support from their community leaders.
Their request was rejected.
The decision to deny the rainbow crosswalk — which is currently under review — was made by the majority of the Springdale council. The mayor stated he voted against it because he believed such a crosswalk would cause division in the community and, as it supported a particular minority group, was not a good way to spend tax dollars.
The desire to not cause division in the town has certainly backfired, and it spread out into the rest of the province, too.
A division that already existed
Not that all this crosswalk crosstalk actually created any division — it's more like it pointed out a division that already existed and highlighted it in red, orange, yellow, green, and blue.
For firm fiscal conservatives, the kind of people who believe government should only spend tax dollars on infrastructure and health care (or not even those!), I can see how a rainbow crosswalk would seem frivolous.
But I never seem to hear these people begrudging the government-sponsored Christmas lights that go up every December — perhaps because they aren't arranged in a rainbow pattern.
The fact is, governments at all levels spend money on non-essential projects that beautify their communities, or entertain their communities, or educate their communities or, sometimes, support marginalized groups who live in their communities.
For LGBTQ youth, who have high rates of depression, bullying, and suicide, a program that promotes support and acceptance of them has a great deal of worth.
They should be incredibly proud
The students at the Indian River High GSA who organized this should be incredibly proud of themselves.
A lot of work went into presenting this idea to town council, and standing firm in their request despite its initial rejection takes resilience and strength.
I very much admire these young people's tenacity and drive, and as a queer woman who was long (like, 28 years long) insecure about my own sexuality, I appreciate their efforts in fighting for themselves and trying to shine a beacon for people in distress.
Gestures like this go a long way.
We see you and we thank you.
Where power and vulnerability meet
It might seem like a lot of controversy over a little thing, but it's fitting that all this discussion is happening over a crosswalk.
Crosswalks are intersections between drivers and pedestrians. If you've ever stood on the side of the road and felt the wind whip past you when a truck raced by, you know the difference between power and vulnerability.
It's easy for drivers, insulated in their vehicles, to breeze past pedestrians — but there are fleshy, vulnerable people to watch out for. Similarly, it's easy for people who don't struggle with discrimination due to sexuality, gender, or race to ignore the reality of people who do.
A crosswalk is a reminder to those of us with power to look out for the vulnerable people, to respect their right of way, and to let them pass unharmed.
And rainbow crosswalks do all that, while also letting members of a particularly vulnerable population know that their greater community supports them as they move forward on their paths. I'd say that's a good value for your dollar.
Listen to this interview from the Central Morning Show on reaction to the Springdale council's decision.