I’m going to take a minute to deviate today to discuss a very important issue that is happening here in my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Last week in Springdale, NL, the town council voted “No” against the high school’s Gender Sexuality Alliance society’s petition to paint a rainbow crosswalk in the town. What followed next was a questionable and embarrassing statement from the Mayor, who stated that it would “divide” the town rather than promote inclusion, further stating that by agreeing to paint a crosswalk for the GSA society also meant having to say “Yes” to other groups, like “coloured people” and such.
Of course, anyone with a social media account and access to Facebook completely lost their minds. The comments and shares ranged from people (Canadian icons alike) showing their support to the GSA students, to those who were completely against the crosswalk. As you can imagine, the comments on the issue have been quite “colourful”, and unfortunately, quite ignorant as well.
Because the conversation was not only focussing on the issue of whether or not the council would repeal their vote, but also the issue of how much small towns in Newfoundland are actually supportive of the LGBTQ community.
Following today’s announcement, the council of Springdale stuck to its decision to deny the GSA society its petition for a rainbow crosswalk, and of course, social media platforms are having another field day filled with colourful comments and disheartening slurs.
And through some of the negative and hateful comments I saw floating around, I decided I could no long simply stay “quiet” about the issue.
Just as proud as I am about being someone that talks openly about her mental illness, I am also an out and proud bisexual woman. Because of the events that have transpired over this last week, my inner bi unicorn is throwing the hugest temper tantrum. I’m angry and upset about these results, but my heart is also aching for those brave youth who tried to fight for inclusion, only to be rejected. Twice.
Even though the council of Springdale are reiterating “apologies” for sending out a “bad message” for the town, and have stated that “anyone on [the] council [isn’t] against inclusion or acceptance of an individual’s sexual orientation, or the way in which they choose to live” (The Western Star), the town still hasn’t given a specific reason as to why the crosswalk is still being denied. They went on recond to state they would consider looking into other alterantives: consider doing a rainbow picnic table at the high school or putting up the rainbow flag for Pride Week (which many towns/cities do anyway), but it’s still a solid “No” to the crosswalk.
The bitter part of me is ticked off at these “secondary” solutions. It’s ok to have a rainbow-themed table, but not a crosswalk? Or is it because it will be on “school grounds” and not on “town roads” that it is more acceptable? Where in which do you draw to line to make something more “acceptable?” And can you really call this a true compromise? Or is it just about appeasment to get the spot light off of the small town?
To me, it is sending a message to those brave youth that, “Yes, we’ll find a way to appease you, but we’re not going to accept you nor support you 100%.” Secondly, on a bigger scale, I believe it sends a message to youth living in other small towns in NL, who are not yet out of the closet, that they probably won’t be accepted either. Since I grew up in a household that was very religious, I felt ashamed of my sexuality for years and years, and I’m sure there are many out there feeling further shamed today because of this decision.
If big city centres like St. John’s and Corner Brook can get onboard without public outcry, if larger communities can understand that the colours of the rainbow doesn’t affect the safety of someone crossing the road, doesn’t require that much financial aid, and can accept others despite differences, why does it always seem that smaller towns cannot get on board? Why does it appear we’re always left with the response of either “Curse those small towns!” or “I’m not surprised really.”
And since the Springdale council refused to give an exact reason for denying the rainbow crosswalk, we’re all left to speculate. Is it an issue of funding? Potentially. Is it an issue of Springdale being a “small town” with “small-minded” views? Maybe. Is the bigger issue that many of the older generations still don’t accept individuals unless they live a life based on old-fashioned ideals? I think we might be getting a little warmer.
If it’s a matter of cost and funding, I’m sure there are many community members and LGBTQ alliances across the province that are willing to rally together and spend a few hours painting the crosswalk and chip in a few bucks. Here in Corner Brook, the paint isn’t even permanent and tends to wear off by the time winter falls and spring rolls around. But at least in the beginning of summer, two city public works people repaint the two crosswalks (one next to City Hall and the other by the Corner Brook High School) in a few hours. I’ve literally watch them do it. It takes virtually no time.
And if it’s not an issue of funding, does it stem from the issue of small towns being “less informed” of the significance of a rainbow crosswalk? The rainbow flag has a long and vibrant history with regards to the LGBTQ community. It’s a symbol that shows not only our pride, but how far we have come through strife and struggles. So, maybe it’s a lack of education regarding the growth of the LGBTQ community, both in general and in Newfoundland. And to some extend, when you do come from a small town where a strong LGBTQ presence isn’t prevalent, or you only know “that one” gay person, how much effort are people really willing to put into educating themselves? Because let’s be honest, Rick Mercer can’t always be our one example of a proud gay Newfoundlander.
But if it’s not an issue of funding or a lack of “understanding”, then the unfortunate realization is that the issue is about how many places in our province aren’t willing to change their views; old-fashion ideals are the norm, therefore anything that goes against these deep-rooted values are an abomination. And yes, I have to state the obvious: sometimes this stems from strict religious convictions.
I come from a small town in Newfoundland too, where I didn’t feel comfortable enough to come out until I moved away to university and found more open-minded people. And while I never really had a big “coming out” moment, I know it is still a battle to be taken seriously when I tell someone I’m bisexual. I get “the looks”. I have people roll their eyes at me. I see the anger that burns in relatives’ eyes whenever it comes up in forced conversation. Even when things aren’t voiced out loud, I know who does and doesn’t support my sexuality. You can disapprove of someone without opening your mouth, and I know all too well of the people who don’t support this part of my life.
Does it bother me? Of course, but being a 26 year-old woman means learning to take things in stride. I still have people who don’t believe in my mental illness or think my PTSD is real, so I know damn well someone isn’t going to like the fact that I find both men and women sexually attractive. Despite this, I’ve never asked anyone in my life to change their stances, or opinions, or religious beliefs based on my sexual orientation. All I’ve ever asked for was to be respected, and even that’s a far cry sometimes.
But if the issue in Springdale this week is rooted from a generation of town counsellors who are biased because of religious beliefs, then this is a much serious problem. Even though the mayor has constantly stated that he is not homophobic, despite that doozy of a speech last week, maybe others on the council feel differently. Therefore, the youth of the GSA didn’t stand a chance, and potentially never will. I’m not saying that everyone in the community of Springdale feels this way, and interviews have shown the town is divided on the issue, but when those in charge are already opposed to it, then change will never happen. When someone’s values are based on deep-religious convictions, then it is going to be a longer and harder battle for young people to help change the conversation.
While I’m sure the majority of us are hoping that this is not the case, we cannot be entirely sure. A town council isn’t going to blatantly admit, “Yes, I’m religious and think homosexuality is a sin.”, but if there is already biases on these opinions, it is a much trickier line to walk. Because if the majority of people believe that a bit of colour on a pothole-infested patch of road is going to invoke the devil, then we’re going to have a harder time trying to help change and create a community of positivity and inclusion of “all”.
Furthermore, no matter how much we to try to be rationale or supportive, there are people in this province who are flat-out bigots and homophobic. It’s only to read the first few comments on Facebook posts and Twitter feeds to see just how much hate still exists towards the LGBTQ community. Even on some of the news articles I’ve shared on my own Facebook, I was left saying “WTF?” to myself from some of the comments people left. And lets not even get started on debates on VOCM’s “Open Line”. There is a fine line between opinion and disrespectful, and a lot of the comments made this week were just downright hateful.
There is a reason this story has reached beyond its borders and spread across the country like wildfire. When it comes to the tiny little “Rock” on the eastern end of Canada, Newfoundland has a reputation for being either the most friendliest place in Canada or for having its people being stigmatized as “stupid Newfies.” So, when a small town in Newfoundland makes national news for denying its youth a symbol of inclusion and a town council sticks their feet in their mouthes when they comment on the issue, guess what happens? Our friendly province comes off looking backwards and ignorant. We send a message that we’re not willing to change in our ways, and yes, we’re the friendliest place in Canada until your way of living goes against our old-time values.
So, to the strong and courageous students in Springdale, please know that regardless of this decision, there are Newfoundlanders out here, including myself that still, and will continue to support you 100%, and are grateful for your bravery to fight for inclusion. This is not the result you wanted (or that many of us wanted for you), but it just means we still have to work a little bit harder to help our communities understand the importance of the inclusion of everyone.
But on that same note, understand this: you are allowed to be angry about this decision. You’re allowed to be pissed and heartbroken that your handwork for creating a more inclusive community was rejected, because I am pissed right along with you.
For being young adults who are still feeling that sting of rejection from a generation that seems hell-bent on denying anyone who is unique or different, and for those that like to throw the “Ugh, Millennials!” slur in our faces, know that the fight for change doesn’t just stop here. At the end of the day, the rejection over a little bit of coloured paint isn’t going to break us. It’s disheartening, yes, but it is not – and will not – be the end of our fight. Just because some people do not agree with you, or support your life choices, doesn’t mean you don’t already have an army behind you, willing and ready to lend their support.
I know you will keep looking for solutions and working toward finding common ground. As evident in the news, youth that are willing to speak up and fight for change are the ones that are going to make the difference. And while today might not have brought the change you desire, there is always tomorrow. As long as you never compromise yourself or make yourself smaller to make someone else feel more “comfortable”, you will eventually change the status quo. You already got the ball rolling, now make sure it keeps rolling.
Because at the end of the day, it’s about more than just a crosswalk. It’s about more than a bit of cheap, coloured paint that will fade away once the first snowfall hits. It’s about how no matter the perceived reputation of your province or your hometown, you can still can still be the positive voice for change. And yes, maybe in Newfoundland we have a way to go before people are more accepting of the LGBTQ community, but it doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Not everyone will be against you, I promise you that.
If this small town girl from Newfoundland can scream (and blog) about being a proud bisexual woman living with PTSD and find more support than hate in the world, then I know you will be able to do the same.
Because it’s about more than just a crosswalk. It’s about being able to walk across the street with your head held high, proud of who you are and all that you do.
And as always,
Fight the good fight!