Controversy erupted on social media this week after Sackville’s mayor, deputy mayor and four councillors joined representatives from Mount Allison University and an LGBTQ advocate to put the finishing touches on one of three rainbow crosswalks.
The crosswalks, on Main and York Streets, are intended to show solidarity with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people in the community, but some complained on Facebook that the colours didn’t reflect the rainbow flag that symbolizes the pride and diversity of the LGBTQ movement.
On Friday, town workers quickly re-painted the crosswalks changing the pink stripes to a dark purple/violet shade and the mint green ones to a deeper green.
“There was no intention to offend anyone,” Jamie Burke, the town’s senior manager for corporate projects explained Friday. “We didn’t use appropriate colours, people told us and they’ve been changed.”
Burke also said that the town was responding to a challenge from the Village of Cap-Pelé, but instead of creating just one rainbow crossing, it decided to paint three.
LGBTQ advocate Janet Hammock says the controversy over the rainbow colours shows how deeply some people feel about the pride flag. In spite of the controversy, she sees the town’s decision to paint the rainbow crosswalks as an overwhelmingly positive step.
Hammock helped organize the first pride flag raising ceremony at the new town hall in October 2012 as well as Sackville’s first pride parade in 2014. But this time, she says, the town took the initiative on its own.
“This is the first time that the town just thought, let’s do this,” she says. “It wasn’t from an LGBTQ person, it was a town-to-town initiative and I thought, man this is really good.”
Mt. A. support
Sara Camus, President of the Mount Allison Students’ Union (MASU) is also pleased about the rainbow crosswalks, especially the two that appear on streets around the university campus.
In an e-mail to The New Wark Times, Camus says the New Brunswick Student Alliance agreed during a conference in April that having rainbow crosswalks in front of universities and colleges would show strong student support for LGBTQ rights. (The Student Alliance represents 12,000 students at five New Brunswick schools.)
“We believe that these symbolic acts that occupy public spaces assure members of the LGBTQ+ community that we stand in solidarity with them,” Camus writes.
Meantime, Janet Hammock notes that the ongoing struggle for LGBTQ rights has been a long one in the face of criminal penalties that weren’t lifted until 1969 and the label of being branded mentally ill.
George Klippert, the last person convicted of practising homosexual acts in Canada, spent a total of 10 years in jail and wasn’t released on parole until 1971.
And, until 1973, homosexuality was officially listed as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association.
Hammock says that although Sackville is a warm and welcoming place, there are still some in town who are uneasy about LGBTQ people. And President Trump’s sudden announcement that transgender people will no longer be allowed to serve in the U.S. military shows that the struggle for LGBTQ rights is far from over.
“Always in the back of my mind I’m fearful that these hard-won rights can be easily eroded for no reason at all,” she says adding that’s why the town’s rainbow crosswalks, flag raisings and pride parades are such important symbols of acceptance and support.