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Rainbow crosswalks sprout in towns across northern BC

More than a dozen rainbows now painted or planned in province

Okanagan Pride’s board of directors and members of the public celebrate the crosswalk's installation in Kelowna in 2015.  Credit: Glen Eldstrom

Rainbow crosswalks are sweeping across northern British Columbia as an increasing number of municipalities vote in favour of adopting the public symbols of LGBT acceptance.

Prince Rupert, Terrace and Smithers have all announced they will install rainbow crosswalks in 2016, adding to the list of communities proving support for sexual diversity is not exclusive to large urban centres.

“Big cities shouldn’t have a monopoly on inclusion,” says Taylor Bachrach, mayor of Smithers. His town voted in favour of the initiative in September 2015, after receiving a letter from a community member proposing the idea.

“I feel quite strongly that small communities can be just as welcoming and inclusive as larger centres,” he says.

(Smithers Mayor Taylor Bachrach, seen here in a Vimeo video, says urban centres shouldn’t have a monopoly on inclusion./Vimeo)

It’s especially important that rural places show support for LGBT people, he adds, because otherwise they will continue to migrate out.

“I really believe that everyone who lives in our community should be able to feel that sense of belonging,” he says.

Christine Danroth, co-coordinator of Prince Rupert Pride, echoes this sentiment.

“I think sometimes when people are coming out they think they have to move down to Vancouver, or leave their small town because it’s homophobic, or people just feel like they have to escape,” Danroth says.

“I think what we’re trying to maybe change in the north is that you don’t have to escape.”

In May, Danroth posted a photo to her Facebook page of a crosswalk near her house with the caption, “Why should Davie St only have rainbows? Could I paint the crosswalk?”

She says her post went viral and in a matter of days she was contacted by Prince Rupert mayor Lee Brian to discuss the idea. The next month, city council passed a motion to put in a rainbow crosswalk in Cow Bay, near Atlin Terminal.

“We are the City of Rainbows, after all,” she says.

Danroth says she was inspired by the rainbow crosswalks of Vancouver’s Davie Village (installed in 2013), but also by one in Castlegar, located in the West Kootenays of BC’s southeast interior, with a population of about 8,000 people.

Castlegar was the second municipality in BC to install a permanent rainbow crosswalk in its city centre in 2014, thanks to the efforts of councillor Deb McIntosh, who saw a photo of another city’s colourful crossings and proposed Castlegar follow suit.

“It’s a wonderful thing. I walk across it and I smile. It’s a very small token of what we can do to show that we are inclusive and happy and proud and love everyone in the community,” McIntosh says.

(Castlegar city councillor Deb McIntosh, right, and her colleagues proudly cross their rainbow crosswalk, painted in 2014./Courtesy of Deb McIntosh)

Some area residents complained about the crossing, expressing concern about the associated costs or whether it would set a precedent with other causes demanding similar recognition. Others questioned the morality of celebrating sexual diversity at all.

“It was all quite frankly bullshit,” McIntosh says.

But the supporters far outweighed the opponents, she hastens to add. “For every ignorant post, there were 20 fabulous posts about it being wonderful and being inclusive and being forward-thinking.”

The planned crosswalks in Prince Rupert, Terrace and Smithers have all received similar pushback, which prompted a recent editorial in the Smithers Interior News by Mayor Bachrach affirming his stance on the subject.

“I think it’s important when controversial issues arise for people in leadership positions to be clear about how they understand the issues,” Bachrach tells Daily Xtra. “I certainly respect the fact that our community is made up of a whole multitude of different perspectives, and I have wanted to communicate with residents in a straight-up way.”

Bachrach says the amount of negative feedback has surprised him, but adds there has also been “tremendous” support shown. Smithers city staff is still calculating the costs, but Bachrach says he thinks it will be comparable to what other communities have paid for their crosswalks (approximately $2,000 to $4,000).

Eleven hours south of Smithers, Kelowna installed four rainbow crosswalks at a downtown intersection in 2015, just in time for Okanagan Pride in August.

“I hope that people do realize the beauty of them because they really do look quite beautiful,” says Okanagan Pride president Sydney Lawson.

“People keep saying, ‘Why do we have to have these things?’ Well because there are still hate crimes and people are still being beaten and killed — in extreme cases — simply for being who they are,” she says. “So we need to bring awareness and a consciousness to this so that people understand these things still happen in this day and age.”

Other communities in BC with rainbow crosswalks include: Victoria, Nelson, the Vancouver suburb of New Westminster, Summerland (46km south of Kelowna), Princeton in southern BC, Masset in Haida Gwaii, and Thompson River University (in Kamloops).