Proposed St. Stephen rainbow crosswalk courts controversy

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Proposed St. Stephen rainbow crosswalk courts controversy

A proposal from middle school students to install a rainbow crosswalk in St. Stephen has met with some resistance from town councillors.

At a council committee meeting Wednesday night, representatives of St. Stephen Middle School's Gay-Straight Alliance asked the town to paint a rainbow crosswalk near the school.

"Adding a rainbow pride crosswalk is an act of kindness, to assure that everyone inside and outside of the school has support," Jenna Densmore, the faculty adviser for the alliance, wrote in a letter that was placed on the agenda of the public works committee.

"Being greeted at [school] by a colourful rainbow each day not only adds character, but also brightens the mood of staff and students before entering the building."

But in the discussion that followed, at least one councillor made it clear he wouldn't support a rainbow crosswalk, and the committee did not take a position. 

Instead, the committee asked for more information, a request that immediately stirred up social media.

Critics wondered what other information council would need about a request from young students for a crosswalk that symbolizes a welcoming, inclusive community.

St. Stephen Coun. Marg Harding said Thursday that she was surprised to see push-back from several councillors over an idea she thought was a "slam dunk."

"I was the only councillor at that time that spoke up in favour of it," she said.

"The gist of the conversation is that people want more information on it. However, it did get heated."

St. Stephen Mayor Allan MacEachern said council hasn't ruled out the crosswalk entirely.

"Council asked for more information and more background on it," he said.

The group will be able to make a presentation again in mid-November.

MacEachern said the backlash on social media has been misguided, and he hadn't had any sleep because of it.

"It's getting kind of twisted right now," he said. "Everyone wanted the right thing.

"I'm so confused. I really don't want to comment at this point."  

Anglophone School District South Superintendant Zoe Watson said she wasn't at the meeting last night but  spoke with the principal of the school before and after it.

"I think they were surprised at the reactions," Watson said.

Watson said she was happy the committee didn't reject the proposal entirely and said the school will provide more information to councillors.

Rainbow crosswalks have become a popular way for municipalities to show support for their LGBT communities. 

Miramichi, Woodstock, Fredericton. Moncton, Riverview and Sackville already have them.

Opposition on council

But in St. Stephen, Deputy Mayor Jason Carr said he would vote against a crosswalk proposal if it goes to the full council but said his stance doesn't come from a position of hate.

"I know the misconception in most cases is that when somebody disagrees with something like [this that] all of a sudden it's hate," said Carr.

"It's not hate. Not from my part anyway," he said.

"We have to respect the values of everybody and we do know, or I know, you're not going to satisfy everybody. There are people who are for it. There are people who are against it. My personal beliefs is that I am against this."

Carr said he has religious apprehensions about a rainbow crosswalk, but he said the reason he doesn't support installing one is that it would only celebrate one group of people, instead of representing the true diversity of the town.

Councillor doesn't feel included

"I don't feel like I'm included, or diverse, or equal because I have an opinion on what I feel diversity looks like and doesn't look like," Carr said.

"What I find is by doing that, you're segregating those kinds in an activity or in a movement that's supposed to include them," he said.

"I admire the passion that this group has for these kids and for this crosswalk and this project. I just wish that they could admire the same passion that I have for my community and my beliefs."

Carr suggested a mural that depicted the diversity of St. Stephen.

One member of the town's LGBT community was upset council hasn't been more supportive of the crosswalk.

Emily Cunningham, a fourth-generation resident of St. Stephen and a member of the LGBT community, was upset with the council committee's response.

LGBT community member surprised

Cunningham, who is pursuing a degree in social work at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, said the lack of support surprised her because she thinks of St. Stephen as welcoming to LGBT people.

"I know that it's tough in rural communities," said Cunningham. "Sometimes you don't see a lot of diversity. But St. Stephen has actually been in a huge push forward towards the future.

"I actually have never felt the way I feel right now at this moment about being LGBTQ in St. Stephen."

Cunningham suggested the apparent reluctance to support a crosswalk reflects a problem at the top.

"It demonstrates that the leadership is not quite where it needs to be in order for the town to grow," said Cunningham.

Her partner lives in St. Stephen with her two children and owns a business in the town.

Cunningham hopes to move back to St. Stephen after she graduates, but the crosswalk controversy has put a damper on that dream.

"I would like my family to be able to grow up in an area where they know that the love that we share in our home is accepted and welcomed," said Cunningham.

Deneca Calhoun, who lives across the street from the school, said the town hasn't been very accepting of the LGBT community.

"We've had our house egged, we've had kids harass our children because of their gay parents and stuff like that, so we don't have a lot of support," she said.

Calhoun said she's proud of the students taking up the cause.

"It makes me feel great," she said. "I wish that I had that encouragement and power when I was a kid."