SOURIS — Symbolizing love, acceptance and inclusivity, a bright rainbow crosswalk now adorns a portion of Crescent Avenue.
The multi-coloured project was spearheaded by the first official Souris Pride Committee, and its members were thrilled to see their vision become a reality.
“We hope that it lets people know that this town is a safe place for all. Love is love,” said Caleigh Walker, who along with Karen Kempe and Cassie Quadrelli, make up the newly formed Pride committee. “We are just wanting everyone to know that they should be free to be who they are and ... know that people in this community will support them and won’t judge them.”
A special event was held to “Paint the Pride Walk” earlier this month, which brought out Souris community members as well as people from the wider Westman region. Local businesses showed their support by donating funds and materials. The crosswalk features colours from the Rainbow Pride flag, which is a symbol of the LGBTQ community. It also features colours from the newer Progress Pride flag, which includes black, brown, light blue, light pink and white to represent marginalized people of colour and the transgender community.
“The rainbow is that sign of being affirming and welcoming and it shows people whether they’re residents or visitors, that Souris is an affirming, inclusive and progressive community,” Kempe said.
Quadrelli said she is proud to have this as a symbol of inclusivity for her kids and their peers as they grow up in the small town.
“I hope that it makes people smile and it makes people happy and ultimately it speaks of love,” she said.
Walker and Quadrelli had the idea to chalk the rainbow crosswalk back in June in honour of Pride Month. They received such an overwhelmingly positive response that they decided to see if they could make it permanent.
“Cassie and I kind of just got motivated. ‘Let’s actually propose this to the town’ ... We had talked about it for over a year,” Walker said.
They sent a proposal letter to the Municipality of Souris-Glenwood council in July and were initially met with concerns.
“They were worried about who would do the work, who would do the maintenance, if it would be a distraction,” Walker said.
Council invited them to present at the Aug. 24 meeting, which is when the Pride committee was officially formed as they needed a name to put on the agenda.
Walker, Quadrelli and Kempe answered council’s questions and concerns and were thrilled when they were given the green light.
“We just tried to present them with all the hard facts on the importance of this kind of representation in our community,” Walker said.
Mayor Darryl Jackson said one of the concerns was vandalism, and who would be in charge of repainting if something happened. The committee said they would take care of it, and it wouldn’t be a cost to the municipality.
“We had quite a discussion. After their presentation, there were definitely some questions that councillors had as far as whys and what-ifs, and so on,” Jackson said. “In the end, it was really felt that this was a good move to make.”
Jackson said it shows the community is “open and welcoming to absolutely everyone.”
Coun. Sande Denbow called the request a “no-brainer” and was pleased to see her fellow councillors get on board after some initial hesitancy.
“I want to wander down the streets in my community and know that every single person that visits us or lives here is important,” she said at the Paint the Pride Walk event. “That we are all inclusive. I don’t want any barriers for anyone, I just want everyone to be able to enjoy themselves and know that they are welcome.”
Sarah Cha is new to Souris and brought her three children to participate in the event.
“This is a fantastic way to show how wonderful a town Souris is for everyone, and I want my kids to be involved … and understand what it means to have something like a Pride walk in our town.”
The event to paint the crosswalk was livestreamed on social media, and Josh Swain, a former Souris resident, tuned in from Montreal.
“I just wanted to be there so badly. I would have loved to have been holding a paint brush,” he said, adding the event was “pretty momentous.”
He noted that Souris is already a welcoming community, but the addition of the Pride crosswalk will help it be more representative of the people living there.
“Being a gay man myself and growing up in that community, I think that having something like that would have really affected me personally in a positive way because it just would have made me feel like I belonged to that community even more than I felt I did.”
The symbol will help young, queer youth have a bit more visibility in the community, he said, adding the teenage years can be a difficult time, especially if they are struggling with sexuality or gender identity.
“If you belong to that community you feel in some way that you aren’t normal and that you don’t belong,” Swain said. “That’s always been the number one thing that LGBT youth have struggled with, and I think even more so in small towns where you don’t have that regular community that you have in larger cities of ‘out’ people living their lives and living their truth.”
Swain said he is happy to be noticing a shift in perspectives; some people who may have had “outdated views” are starting to open up to the idea that there are a wide variety of different sexualities and gender identities.
The Souris Pride Committee plans to paint the crosswalk annually in May so it is ready for Pride Month in June. Walker said they plan to host the first Souris Pride celebration in June 2022.
They also have other plans in the works, such as developing a safe space for people to gather, find resources, and potentially host workshops and support groups.
“We have so many dreams that we are very excited to bring to fruition.”
» Jillian Austin is a Local Journalism Initiative freelance writer and a real estate agent with Century 21 Westman Realty.
» Twitter: @jillianaustin
Jillian Austin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun