Although Valemount’s Village Council decided to reject the rainbow crosswalk, some members of the community are showing their support to the LGBTQ2 community.
Organized by Kim Duncan, Susanna Gasser and Nicole Dryden, a group of at least 50 strong gathered at the site of the proposed rainbow crosswalk, and coloured it in a rainbow pattern with chalk.
“We want to make sure everyone knows they’re accepted,” says Duncan. “Even though Valemount’s administration didn’t want the crosswalk, everyone in the community should be accepted.”
During the peaceful protest, Valemount RCMP made an appearance, telling protestors to stop their colouring, as the demonstration constituted public mischief and the rainbow was graffiti of Village of Valemount property.
Mandy McMinn — who initially proposed the rainbow crosswalk — lives in Valemount with her wife, Gail Burbidge.
McMinn, who is just over 50 years old, says she has faced a lot of judgment in her life because of her sexual orientation, and it can be more difficult for LGBTQ2 people to come out in rural locations.
But McMinn also says Valemount has been the most accepting place she and Burbidge have lived; it influenced their decision to move here from the UK.
At the chalking Wednesday night, McMinn shed tears. She said she didn’t plan or take part in the chalk crosswalk, but said she was proud of the community for the statement.
“This is why I love the community,” said McMinn . “They do bizarre things like this, and they shock me every day.”
Village council voted unanimously at the July 26 meeting to axe the idea of painting a rainbow crosswalk, citing liability and cost as the main reasons for rejection.
A report authored by Village CAO, Mark Macneill, estimates ongoing maintenance ranging from $2,500 – $10,000 annually, though no breakdown of costs was provided to the Goat. The Village of Valemount report also pointed to liability concerns.
However, many other communities in B.C. have rainbow crosswalks, and while the initial paint job would mean incurring a cost — it may not have to be an annual one, according to Frank Armitage, mayor of Princeton, B.C.
Princeton is one of the many communities that has a rainbow crosswalk, and Armitage says he and the council voted 100 per cent in favour.
“We buy-in to the recognition of all people,” says Armitage. “It cost us $2,000, not $10,000.”
One year after installing the crosswalk, Armitage says the paint on the crosswalk has faded. Rather than pay an annual cost, the mayor of Princeton says they will be doing something to maintain their position of acceptance.
“It’s time in this wonderful world for (acceptance),” he says.
Kelowna has also installed a rainbow crosswalk. Fred Wollin, Kelowna’s traffic operations supervisor, says the rainbow crosswalk in Kelowna cost a bit more than Princeton’s.
“We use thermal plastic material — we don’t use paint because it doesn’t last long,” says Wollin. “The coloured marking cost us about $10,000.”
However, it’s not an annual cost, according to Wollin, as the lines last for a minimum of five years, and in that time cost the City of Kelowna no maintenance.
In the three communities The Goat surveyed, the average annual cost of the rainbow crosswalks was roughly $2,000, and administration had multiple options to select from.
And McMinn never asked for it to be an annual paint job, she says, and she didn’t ask the Village for money — saying to council that the money would be fundraised.
“Although I’m disappointed, I wasn’t overly surprised with council’s decision,” McMinn says.
“This isn’t for me. It’s not for my wife. I’ve done my fighting. I’ve had to fight for 30 years of my life. This, I wanted for the future generations, for the kids,” she says.
The July 26 Village council meeting started with Valemount’s Mayor, Jeannette Townsend, reading a letter written by a man named Shaun Saaiman.
Saaiman identified himself as a homosexual who has lived in Valemount for nine years, but has been with his partner for 27 years. The letter stated the views of McMinn and Burbidge do not reflect the views of the entire LGBTQ2 community.
At one point, the letter reads, “The rainbow crosswalk will create more divide than it will acceptance.”
When The Goat asked Mayor Townsend who else, aside from Saaiman, was consulted within the LGBTQ2 community, the Mayor said Saaiman came forward to the Village, not the other way around.
Counc. Hollie Blanchette cited the cost, liability and precedent as reasons for her opposition. Counc. Sandy Salt pointed to the cost. Councillors Owen Torgerson, Peter Reimer and Mayor Townsend did not speak to the matter.
Counc. Torgerson motioned to decline the painting of the crosswalk, while Counc. Reimer seconded the motion.
However, even though the administration is chalking the decision up to financial concerns, chalk crosswalk co-organizer Susanna Gasser says the real value isn’t in dollars and cents.
“The decision to reject the crosswalk symbolizes a decision of exclusion versus inclusion,” she says. “I don’t understand the rationale.
“We wanted to add value to the future of this vibrant, young community.”
After council had already made its decision, in public comment Burbidge spoke to council of her disappointment in its decision. She cited much of CAO Macneill’s report as being inaccurate.
Rashmi Narayan also spoke of her disappointment in the decision, and again, said Macneill’s report did not justify the decision.
A letter written by Dakota Stone — a homosexual man who was raised in Valemount — was read by his mother as well.
“A rainbow crosswalk could literally mean saving a child’s life,” reads the letter from Stone.
McMinn was the last person to voice her displeasure with the council’s decision.
But in the end, Duncan says council’s decision couldn’t have worked out better, as she says the youth in the community are ready to support McMinn and Burbidge any way they can.
“It’s a blessing in a way,” says Duncan. “We got to see all these people come out and show support.”
Over 150 people have expressed support for the rainbow crosswalk via social media, and while it may not be all local support, would still equate to 15 per cent of Valemount’s population.
“I just don’t want any kids to have to go through what I’ve gone through,” says McMinn. “This (chalking) is amazing. Thank you.”