A crosswalk is once again propelling controversies — and welcome conversations — about inclusion and intolerance from a small town onto the national stage.
The council in the rural town of Springdale, N.L. (population approximately 3,000), recently denied a request from members of Indian River High School’s Gender Sexuality Alliance to have a nearby crosswalk painted in the rainbow colours used to show support for the LGBTQ community.
The resulting firestorm made national news, and it’s far from the first time this has happened in Atlantic Canada in recent memory.
In 2016, a 24-year-old man was convicted of damaging a crosswalk painted in the Pride colours in New Glasgow, N.S. He used an ATV to skid over it, forcing the town to repaint it.
Last year in Prince Edward Island, a restaurant owner’s online comments opposing a rainbow crosswalk led to a digital war of words that continues to this day in one way or another.
Looking in from the outside, it would be all too convenient to label Springdale — or any of these places — as having the stereotypical backwoods mentality that outsiders ascribe to rural communities.
The reality, though, is much different.
Just this week, students from Springdale’s Indian River High School presented their idea to council again, this time at a public meeting. The mayor, councillors and most who attended seemed open to revisiting the idea, and they outlined some of their reasoning for rejecting the students’ proposal. It was a good, even-tempered exchange. Councillors insist their reasons for voting down the crosswalk proposal in the first place had nothing to do with homophobia or intolerance of any sort.
More importantly, the public meeting was a calm and rational discourse that stood in stark contrast to what was happening online.
That kind of visceral social media is something you see all the time now when it comes to issues that can be considered even remotely divisive. Social media sites become a sounding board for extreme views on one side or another. Anyone with a measured opinion who dares attempt to mediate the discussion gets lost in the fray.
These sites — most notably Facebook — have been taking it on the chin of late because of how they use or misuse our personal information, but we also have to be stewards of what we do or say online.
Social media allows people to sound off in relative anonymity about things they would never say to anyone’s face, and it seems to have allowed those with deep-seated negative and bigoted views a licence to promote those ideas publicly.
It’s hopeful when you see conversations developing like the one happening now in Springdale and, as a result, in many other communities in the region.
The more that happens — in real life, face to face, person to person — the more we’ll be able to tune out the background noise.