Smithers will wear new stripes as a town that accepts and supports the LGBTQ community after council voted to paint a rainbow crosswalk on Main Street last week.
Council voted to paint the intersection of Main Street and Second Avenue with the iconic rainbow, which symbolizes pride and diversity in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities (LGBTQ).
Smithers is the latest northern community to adopt the symbol, with Terrace and Prince Rupert having already voted in favour of installing them. Kelowna and Victoria already have them.
Canada’s first permanent rainbow crosswalks were painted at the corner of Davie and Bute Streets in Vancouver in 2013.
Last week’s decision to bring the concept to Smithers was made at the suggestion of local woman Anna Zeigler.
In a letter to council, she suggested a rainbow crosswalk would make the town more welcoming.
“I think having a rainbow crosswalk would show our visitors and local alike that everyone, no matter who they are, will be greeted with respect, equality and love; that they do not have to be afraid to be who they are,” she wrote in the letter.
Zeigler told The Interior News she hoped the rainbow would symbolize more than just acceptance and diversity of the LGBTQ community.
“I think the rainbow should be more of a symbol of all colours of humans, be it where you are from, what you identify as, as well as sexual orientation,” she said.
“I think having the rainbow there shows that Smithers, here you are free to be whoever you are.”
Zeigler praised town council for adopting the idea despite the potential for backlash.
She hoped anyone opposed to the crosswalk would adopt her motto to “treat others who you would like to be treated”.
“I just think it’s brave for people who are different from the “norm” to live every day in a predominantly heterosexual world,” said Zeigler.
“It may have taken guts for me to write this letter but it has nothing on the amount of courage and bravery it takes for someone to live every day as their true self.”
Mayor Taylor Bachrach said putting a rainbow crosswalk in the heart of the town showed Smithers was serious about its message.
“The rainbow crosswalk has come to symbolize a community that embraces diversity particularly when it comes to LGBTQ people and I can’t think of a more important message to send the world than one that says Smithers is a place where people can feel safe and included,” he said.
Councillors Frank Wray and Shelley Browne, who voted against the crosswalk, raised questions about the cost of maintenance and whether the crosswalk put too much emphasis on one cause.
Bachrach said the cost would depend on the type of paint and design but he believes the cost will be reasonable.
“Local government is about making decisions about where you invest resources and the other night at council, this is the area we chose to invest a fairly modest amount of resources, just like we invest in other aspects of making our town attractive and safe,” he said.
Perry Rath is the teacher support for the Gender Sexuality Alliance at Smithers Secondary School.
Created locally in 2007, the GSA is a social, support and advocacy group for students who are questioning their sexuality or gender identity.
Rath said members of the group had also been planning to write to council suggesting they install a rainbow crosswalk.
“Seeing that even Terrace over the summer accepted that they would have a rainbow crosswalk, that was like, ‘Okay, we’ve got to make one happen here’,” said Rath.
He said students were excited about having a visual symbol of acceptance of diversity in their town, although there were some concerns.
“Some alumni who were part of the GSA years ago who have since graduated have wondered whether our town is ready for it,” said Rath.
“They are just worried about people understanding it and respecting it but I think to have it is important as a visual symbol.”
Ray Lam is the executive director of the Vancouver Pride Society, which created the original rainbow crosswalk in partnership with the City of Vancouver.
He believes the idea is gaining popularity across Canada because it a quick way of showing support.
Lam said the crosswalk was a form of public art which could raise awareness about what the rainbow symbolizes.
“That’s kind of one of the reasons we put the intersection in, to remind people that the flag has meaning, the colours have different meanings and it is a symbol for the LGBT community and equality and not just a logo,” he said.