BEYOND THE HEADLINES: The rainbow connection

A reporter enters into discussions with Coldstream council about being proactive

I have a disclosure to make. I did what impartial, objective reporters aren’t supposed to do. I wrote a letter to my civic leaders.

Last year, my family suggested to Coldstream council that a crosswalk be painted in the rainbow colours just as had occurred in Kelowna. Perhaps with some naivete, the thought was that a coloured crosswalk would send the message that our community embraces all.

Well, bureaucracy got a hold of the issue and at a Nov. 1, 2015 meeting, district staff recommended that the request for a rainbow crosswalk be denied.

Staff dismissed the request as being the same as a proclamation and that such a move would alter “infrastructure in support of a specific movement, event or group.” That explanation is difficult to accept when the district has allowed banners for specific group fundraisers and awareness campaigns to be posted on the municipal office. Does that not alter infrastructure?

In a follow-up letter, I stated that, “We have a responsibility to tell the young people at our local schools that it’s OK to be who you are — that you should not be ashamed of yourself, be proud. Yes the rainbow colours are closely associated with the LGBT community, but the message of being inclusive can also be extended to anyone regarding their religion, culture, gender, disability, etc. This has nothing to do with special interest groups or being politically correct. It’s about our council and residents recognizing the diversity of our community and doing the right thing.”

Jump ahead to Feb. 25, 2016, and my family received a letter from the district indicating that a cosmetic enhancement to infrastructure policy had been adopted.

In the letter, the district states that it is, “inclusive, treats all individuals as equal and does not discriminate against any segment of society.” It then goes on to say that infrastructure should be maintained in accordance with accepted safety standards. The bottom line, apparently, is that while you can see rainbow crosswalks in Kelowna and in other communities miles away, they aren’t safe.

The policy further states that requests to enhance or alter infrastructure are denied if they are, “solely intended to seek to influence public opinion or express political views on matters unrelated to local government services, including those that are based on the desire to prevent discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, religious beliefs, race or analogous issues.”

Fair enough, but I just took part in the graduation ceremony at Coldstream’s high school and all students were celebrated for who they are. What message are we giving them as they enter the real world? Are we saying that we as communities are unwilling to stand up for them? Or perhaps we are saying that while local councils are easier to access than federal or provincial officials, don’t expect them to speak out on anything meaningful? And if that is the case, local governments should abandon issues like affordable housing and conditions at lookouts because they aren’t part of the municipal mandate.

Now I want to be clear, I am not suggesting that the District of Coldstream is discriminatory, but there is so much more we can all be doing to create an atmosphere of inclusivity particularly given the tragedy at a gay bar in Florida.

Will some colourful lines on a road suddenly end homophobia? Of course not, but little steps can ultimately lead to change.

And while reporters are supposed to be impartial, consider that we are also spouses, parents, neighbours and humans. We don’t turn off our feelings just because of our jobs. I hope others will do the same.