Many people say the quality they appreciate most in their leaders is honesty, so I would like to offer my honest thoughts on why I feel it’s important we paint a rainbow crosswalk in downtown Smithers.
Few would argue we should not strive to be an inclusive, tolerant community. These values lie at the heart of what it means to be Canadian.
We do not include or tolerate everything. We don’t tolerate serious criminal offences. We don’t tolerate bullying and violence. But unless your actions are harming others, most would agree you should have a right to live here.
This tolerance has made Smithers a reasonably diverse place. Smithereens come from different ethnic backgrounds, subscribe to different philosophies, look different, hold different faiths and yes, have different sexual orientations. We all call this place home.
However, there’s a distinction between tolerating difference — a sort of grudging acceptance that keeps “the other” at a distance — and celebrating difference. The latter not only accepts others and seeks to understand them, but also appreciates the fact that within difference lies diversity and the path to a stronger, more resilient community.
Over the past century, North American society has taken some big steps toward accepting and celebrating difference. At one time the notion that people of colour were lesser humans was embedded in our laws and institutions. At one time women were viewed as deserving fewer rights than men, including the right to vote. And at one time First Nations people were not allowed to speak their own language, practise their customs or enter most of the businesses on our Main Street.
Much work remains, but who among us resents our progress toward a more equal society?
Small towns are not easy places to grow up lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer. People I’ve spoken to tell me they often experience at best a kind of reluctant tolerance; at worst they suffer overt homophobia. Many small-town LGBTQ youth feel scared, isolated and so full of shame that some are driven to desperate measures. LGBTQ youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers.
Perhaps this is why so many young people who hold these identities leave small towns like ours as soon as they possibly can. They leave in order to live and love, and many never look back.
Is this OK? Wouldn’t we be a better community if we could create a place where all of our LGBTQ youth could envision themselves making a life? I think we would.
It’s no secret that many of our views have been shaped by how we were raised as children. My understanding of LGBTQ identities came at an early age because of my relationship with my uncle, who is gay, and my aunt, who is a lesbian. Both are remarkable people. Even though they were different, my parents taught me to accept them — celebrate them — for who they were. We did not wish they would change. We did not think it was a phase they might grow out of.
Some people have the wrong idea about what the rainbow crosswalk symbolizes. It is not meant to suggest being LGBTQ is better than being heterosexual. Council’s intention is for it to be a symbol of inclusion and acceptance, a celebration of difference. Further, it’s a statement that discrimination or hate based on sexual orientation and gender identity will not be tolerated in our town and on our streets.
One of the great things about small towns — the reason why many of us, including my family, came to live here in Smithers — is the deep sense of belonging that only a tightly knit community can offer. Beyond everything, the crosswalk symbolizes a promise that every member of the LGBTQ community who lives in Smithers can expect that sense of belonging.
It also means that among Smithereens, difference is never a reason for exclusion but rather a case for inclusion. And while difference has many aspects, we have indeed chosen a symbol primarily associated with sexual orientation, because for a very long time the LGBTQ community has been denied the full measure of human dignity, which is the first step to that sense of belonging.
I appreciate the many conversations I’ve had with people who see this issue differently. You have helped me more clearly understand other perspectives. I want you all to know that I respect your views even when I don’t share them. We still hold so much in common.
As a resident offered at one of our recent council meetings, it serves us to remember that we are all striving to create a better place — a place that is more just, more compassionate. While at times we may each see a different path toward this place, the fact we have the same destination in our sight means it will always be worth talking about how to get there.
— Taylor Bachrach is the mayor of Smithers. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.