Proposed St. Stephen rainbow crosswalk courts controversy

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A proposal from middle school students to install a rainbow crosswalk in St. Stephen has met with some resistance from town councillors.

At a council committee meeting Wednesday night, representatives of St. Stephen Middle School’s Gay-Straight Alliance asked the town to paint a rainbow crosswalk near the school.

Adding a rainbow pride crosswalk is an act of kindness, to assure that everyone inside and outside of the school has support,” Jenna Densmore, the faculty adviser for the alliance, wrote in a letter that was placed on the agenda of the public works committee.

“Being greeted at [school] by a colourful rainbow each day not only adds character, but also brightens the mood of staff and students before entering the building.”

But in the discussion that followed, at least one councillor made it clear he wouldn’t support a rainbow crosswalk, and the committee did not take a position. 

‘I’m so confused. I really don’t want to comment at this point’-Allan MacEachern, St. Stephen mayor

Instead, the committee asked for more information, a request that immediately stirred up critics on social media.

St. Stephen Mayor Allan MacEachern said Thursday that council hasn’t ruled out the idea entirely.

“Council asked for more information and more background on it,” he said.

MacEachern said the backlash on social media so far has been misguided, and he hadn’t had any sleep because of it.

“It’s getting kind of twisted right now,” said MacEachern. “Everyone wanted the right thing.

“I’m so confused. I really don’t want to comment at this point.”  

Rainbow crosswalks have become a popular way for municipalities to show support for their LGBTQ communities.

Miramichi, Woodstock and Fredericton have already installed them.

Opposition on council

st-stephen-town-hall Proposed St. Stephen rainbow crosswalk courts controversy

At least one St. Stephen councillor will vote no if council is asked to approve a rainbow sidewalk. (CBC)

Some St. Stephen councillors, however, were vocal in their opposition to a rainbow crosswalks in town.

Deputy Mayor Jason Carr said he would vote against the proposal if it goes to the full council but said his stance doesn’t come from a position of hate

“I know the misconception in most cases is that when somebody disagrees with something like [this that] all of a sudden it’s hate,” said Carr.

“It’s not hate. Not from my part anyway.”

Carr said he doesn’t support the crosswalk because he feels it only celebrates one group of people, instead of representing the true diversity of the town.

Councillor doesn’t feel included

“I don’t feel like I’m included, or diverse, or equal because I have an opinion on what I feel diversity looks like and doesn’t look like,” Carr said.

“What I find is by doing that, you’re segregating those kinds in an activity or in a movement that’s supposed to include them.”

Carr suggested a mural that depicted the diversity of St. Stephen.

One member of the town’s LGBTQ community was upset council hasn’t been more supportive of the crosswalk.

Emily Cunningham, a fourth-generation resident of St. Stephen and a member of the LGBTQ community, was upset with the council committee’s response.

LGBTQ community member surprised

Cunningham, who is pursuing a degree in social work at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, said the lack of support surprised her because she thinks of St. Stephen as welcoming to LGBTQ people.

“I know that it’s tough in rural communities,” said Cunningham. “Sometimes you don’t see a lot of diversity. But St. Stephen has actually been in a huge push forward towards the future.

“I actually have never felt the way I feel right now at this moment about being LGBTQ in St. Stephen.”

Cunningham suggested the apparent reluctance to support a crosswalk reflects a problem at the top.

“It demonstrates that the leadership is not quite where it needs to be in order for the town to grow,” said Cunningham.

Her partner lives in St. Stephen with her two children and owns a business in the town.

Cunningham hopes to move back to St. Stephen after she graduates, but the crosswalk controversy has put a damper on that dream.

“I would like my family to be able to grow up in an area where they know that the love that we share in our home is accepted and welcomed,” said Cunningham.

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