Merritt, B.C.’s city council recently rejected a proposal, put forward by the Merritt school district, for a rainbow crosswalk to be created near the local high school at the intersection of Coldwater Ave. and Chapman St., according to the CBC. The crosswalk was the idea of two student groups: an LGBTQ support group, and the Aboriginal Youth Voice Group. They approached the school board with their idea, and the board in turn made their petition to city hall.
Despite the school board being willing to foot the bill for construction and maintenance of the crosswalk, the city council rejected the proposal on the grounds that they feared opening a “Pandora’s box” of special interest groups demanding their own crosswalks, like the local hockey team or Rotary Club.
“I find it a really weak argument to talk about the fact that maybe groups like Rotary or the Merritt Centennials might request a crosswalk,” said Merritt school board chair Gordon Comeau, and I wholeheartedly agree with his assessment. Practicalities aside, when has that ever happened? Many other communities such as Vancouver, Fort Langley, Prince George, and Masset, just to name a few, have rainbow crosswalks of their own, and yet we never hear about special interest groups coming out of the woodwork and demanding their own versions. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ve never had a strong desire for the city to make an autism-themed crosswalk, for example, and I don’t think most people would be so presumptuous.
We all know the real reason for the refusal, of course. The people in charge of the city of Merritt are afraid of change and afraid of people unlike them, and they don’t want to acknowledge them.
To give credit where credit is due, not all of the city councillors felt the same way, and some were more willing to confront their own feelings on the matter. Councillor Linda Brown is quoted in the CBC article as saying, “This is certainly not my lifestyle, nor do I propose to understand it or condone it, but I understand the fact that the kids of the school think that this will be a way to show some type of inclusion to the [kids] that belong in that community and I think that that is a positive message that the kids are trying to create.” While I may look askance at Brown’s attitude, and her choice of words, I admire and respect her honesty, and her ability to look beyond her own beliefs and appreciate what the bigger issue is here.
Merritt’s rainbow crosswalk proposal was not only about and for LGBTQ people, but was meant to express a general acceptance of a diverse populace. Little symbols like these, although they may not be of much substance, are expressions of goodwill and accommodation to different kinds of people. Yet for others, they are reminders of a reality they are unwilling to accept. I feel sorry for those who cannot let a rainbow be a rainbow.
The students of Merritt will likely be disappointed that this simple gesture of kindness on their part was blocked. Still, they have not given up, and are looking into creating an alternative that is not on public property.
The great irony of this is that through their actions the city council has made Merritt seem like a less tolerant and welcoming community than it was before. Hopefully, the youth of Merritt can find some way to show this isn’t the case.
Image: Creative Commons