Unanimous support for South Dundas Rainbow Crosswalk in Iroquois

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SOUTH DUNDAS – Municipal council has unanimously supported a delegation’s proposal to paint a Rainbow Pride crosswalk across Elizabeth Drive in Iroquois.

Seaway District High School’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance group presented its proposal for the crosswalk that connects the secondary school to the Iroquois Village Plaza via the post office at the June 13 South Dundas council meeting.

“Many of us are residents of South Dundas and we are very proud to call South Dundas home. However not all of us fully feel represented or safe in our collective community,” said Upper Canada District School Board Student Trustee and Seaway Student Eshal Ali. “It is time for change. Although change is often met with adversity, this does not mean that change is not necessary.”

Ali led the delegation which included about 15 school staff, parents, and students in the audience.

She explained why the crosswalk symbol was important to those in the LGTBQ2S+ community in South Dundas.

“So tonight we bring forward this initiative to allow everyone in this community to feel safe and welcome,” Ali said. “If a simple symbol or gesture can provide this, then what are we waiting for? This council can take action to show our community that it is ready to take a stand and ensure representation and acceptance of all people of South Dundas including members of the 2SLGTBQIA+ community.”

In the matter of security and safety concerns, she said the school’s security cameras are already pointed at the sidewalk so any issues that may occur can be addressed.

“The approval of this crosswalk would allow a bridge between the South Dundas municipality to support its youth and their initiatives and prove that we are moving forward to an equitable future,” said Ali.

The proposal had the support of many in the community including the school’s parent council, South Dundas Soccer, and the UCDSB.

Mayor Steven Byvelds was the first to give his support to the delegation Monday night saying that change had to come to South Dundas.

“There has been a rapid change to gender equality that we need to entertain,” he explained. “We’re not as strong as other communities but something like this strengthens what we need to do in South Dundas. It’s time to do what’s right and you have the full support of this council, and my support.”

Deputy Mayor Kirsten Gardner said she hoped people looking at the issue see this as council and the community listening to what youth want in South Dundas.

“The youth here are speaking, and we need to listen,” she said. “It shouldn’t be as hard as it is to stand up for what you believe in. We have difficult conversations all the time. Our community can choose whether this will be a divisive conversation. I’m hoping that our residents will look at it as something our youth has requested. Communities and community leaders need to understand that when people don’t feel included this can actually end in loss of life by suicide.”

Support around the council table was unanimous. Councillor Lloyd Wells said he was in full support of the project.

“Everyone should feel safe,” he said. “Times over the last 30-40 years have changed. The youth are speaking and we’re here to support stuff like that.”

Councillor Donald Lewis echoed Wells and alluded to the age of some of the members of council in his remarks.

“You are the next generation, we’re the dinosaurs here,” he quipped. “I support this 110 per cent.”

Councillor Archie Mellan reflected that there is a rural mindset in need of change.

“We have mindsets that have been entrenched in us and it’s time that those mindsets have to be changed,” he said. “This is the step, I think, in breaking down those barriers and communicating the importance of everybody’s rights. I think this a phenomenal first step.”

He added thanks to the students and youth who spoke up for the crosswalk.

“It takes something a little extra to do that,” Mellan said. “Come to a bunch of oldies like us and express your views. That’s the important part – for the youth to step out and to let us know and let the community know that you want change and this is how we are going to start that change.”

Ali explained in her presentation that painting the crosswalk would not cost the municipality any money, but said any support is appreciated. Ongoing maintenance of the painting for the crosswalk will also not be a burden to the municipality in the future.

After the meeting, members of the delegation were excited to have the support from South Dundas council and were ready to proceed.

Seaway Teacher Sarah Ball, who presented with Ali, said she was impressed with how positively the delegation had been received.

“[Council] really wants youth-driven voices,” Ball said. “Council said they are always asking why people aren’t coming back when they go off to school. I think it’s cool they are asking those questions. ‘What can we do to make it so appealing that they want to return?’”

Jenn Eamon, a staff advisor to the Seaway GSA club, said the collaborative school-community project is a credit to the students in the club.

“To say I’m proud is an understatment,” Eamon said. “[It] was an idea that I brought forward to the GSA club. Sarah Ball and Eshal Ali, along with the rest of the GSA club members took this all the way to the finish line, like champs, and really pulled it off! Those were real tears at the end of the presentation.”

“This council and our work with Deputy Mayor Gardner last year, demonstrated a really serious look at the youth and what the youth have to say to improve the community of South Dundas,” said Seaway Principal Trent Carter-Edwards. “I think this is a real opportunity for change and I’m beyond proud of the [GSA] group tonight and really, really pleased that Mayor Byvelds and the entire South Dundas council took the proposal seriously. They seem genuinely interested in moving forward and supporting it.”

With the support of council, the Seaway GSA group and South Dundas staff will coordinate the next steps to having the crosswalk painted.

Phillip Blancher, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Morrisburg Leader

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