In defence of the rainbow

Resident provides their thoughts on a rainbow crosswalk

What words can I use to describe some of the letters in opposition to the rainbow crosswalk I have read over the past few weeks. Disgusting, homophobic, vitriol? No, that’s just my more passionate side speaking out. Perhaps uninformed is a better way of describing them. I would like to address some of the arguments made, with the intention of convincing the detractors of this project that the crosswalk is not such a bad idea.

First, to give the reader some idea as to my authority on the topic, I am indeed gay. That is not how I describe myself, however. I am more proud of the fact I am a second-year business student at UBCO, I work at Sparkling Hill Resort, I am a card-carrying member of both the B.C. Liberal and federal Conservative parties, and I am a third generation resident of Greater Vernon. Those are the things that I want to define me, not my sexual orientation. That being said, in a world where nearly 90 per cent of the population is born heterosexual, it is difficult to not find yourself singled out or defined by your sexuality when you deviate from the majority.

But I digress. One of the first letters on this topic was written by Ulrike Gibbs. Mrs. Gibbs contends that the primary purpose of a crosswalk is to be visible to allow for safe crossing of pedestrians. For anyone who was confused about the purpose of a crosswalk, I’m sure this was useful information. She then proceeds to state that safety should be priority and that a crosswalk is not a space for political messages; followed by the assertion that the rainbow is a divisive symbol and does not advocate at all for other persecuted minorities, therefore the LGBTQ+ community should not be propped up or singled out.

Addressing her comment on safety: is it really reasonable to state that replacing two solid white lines with a barrage of colours is not making the crossing more visible? I think it would be extremely difficult to make it more visible than if it were a rainbow, save for maybe adding multi-coloured LEDs that could turn the crosswalk into a disco at night… pardon me, that’s my gay side talking. Silly idea. Moving on, her assertion that other persecuted groups are not represented is false. If not directly in the crosswalk, we also have a mural on 33rd Street dedicated to the Okanagan Indian Band and another on 30th Street dedicated to the victims of internment camps in the First World War.

True, there are other groups that deserve recognition who haven’t received it yet, but that is not an excuse to say, “well we haven’t dealt with X group yet, so we can’t paint a crosswalk for the gays.”

The next letter I read was particularly interesting. Maureen Kampen praised Coun. Scott Anderson for “daring” to disagree with council on the rainbow crosswalk decision. She then suggested that the whole world was trying to be inclusive for the LGBTQ+ community while Christians were being put on the sidelines (i.e. the “war on Christmas”). Well, to counter that argument, I celebrate Christmas but if someone chooses to say “Happy holidays” to me, I won’t get offended. In fact, I see no reason why some Christians feel that Christmas needs to be on display everywhere. I don’t see it as discrimination if society chooses not to publicly celebrate the holiday of one specific denomination.

The next letter of particular interest was written by Terry Batchelor in which he states that rainbow crosswalks are, “out of sync with all that Canada stands for” and that money spent on a crosswalk would be better spent on veterans. I did not realize that veterans and gay people were at odds with each other. The last I checked, our veterans have defended our values of freedom, equality, and democracy abroad for the last century. It is because of their sacrifices that we are here today having this conversation. Being that freedom and equality are some of the things veterans fought for, and also something that the LGBTQ+ community continues to fight for, though in a different capacity, I would argue that the gay community is completely in sync with Canadian values.

The last letter was the one that inspired me to write this letter. In it, Mark Sladen wrote a very tongue-in-cheek piece advocating “an accurate and to-scale depiction of Noah’s ark be painted on the rainbow crosswalk, as well as a cross and even a Bible.” His reasoning is that this would show we as a community have tolerance for, “more than one world view.”

I would remind Mr. Sladen that who one sleeps with is not a religion, moral edict, or world view. It is worth pointing out that painting a crosswalk is not imposing a moral edict on society any more than raising a cross above a church is. And to counter his suggestion about painting an ark/cross/Bible overtop of the rainbow crosswalk, I might suggest instead, occupying an adjacent crosswalk so the messages aren’t conflicting. Moreover, as a gay person with a “gay world view,” I have no opposition to various special interest groups displaying their messages though public works so long as they are not harmful or distasteful. We very well should have a public art piece dedicated to Christians. They are by in large, the people who built this town and this country as a whole.

We must remember that we as Canadians believe in the freedom of expression and the importance of tolerance. It is what makes our nation great. If a special interest group wants to create a public art piece using private funding, then that should be perfectly OK. All groups, be them religions, ethnicities, ideologies or other communities have the perfect right to have their voices heard so long as they aren’t hurting anyone else. I believe that all of the detractors mentioned have the right to their respective opinions on the rainbow crosswalk, but I too have an opinion and I hope that by sharing it here, we can begin to understand one and other in a more meaningful capacity.

Ian Pusey