Rejection is act of exclusion

Dear Editor,

I address this letter to the members of the Village Council who opposed the rainbow crosswalk, and to anyone else in Valemount who either implicitly or explicitly opposes the rainbow crosswalk.

I would like to acknowledge, with respect, the amount of hard work and consideration it takes to make decisions on behalf of an entire community, minorities and non-minorities alike. As a former long-time Valemount resident and someone who still visits, and as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I would like to state my concerns regarding the decision not to implement a rainbow sidewalk.

I in no way speak for every LGBTQ+ person. This is my view based on my experience as an activist and member of the LGBTQ+ community.

Since moving away from Valemount I have lived in many places with rainbow crosswalks, all of which have much larger populations, with a lot more going on drivers must pay attention to. As far as I am aware, the colour of the crosswalk has not caused any traffic accidents. I believe folks will adjust to it.

In regards to the price of a sidewalk, I’m sure if you put it to the people who are in favour of it would be more than happy to raise part or all of the funds themselves. I’d be the first to donate.

It’s not because I personally care much for rainbow crosswalks. But when I do see a rainbow crosswalk, or a rainbow sticker on the door of an establishment, or a rainbow or trans flag waving (bonus points for both), I feel a little safer because someone is saying, “We see you. We acknowledge your struggle. We endeavour to make this a safer space for you.”

As someone who lives in near-constant fear of being targeted for my sexual orientation and gender identity — yes, even in the Big City where people are supposedly open-minded — I can honestly say every little bit counts. I don’t assume that every single person living in an area displaying rainbow paraphernalia is queer-friendly, but I know I am being recognized for who and what I am, and that someone has gone through the trouble of including me, my wife, and many people whom I love very dearly.

This can only ever be a good thing because it’s not just people in the existing community who will benefit from the symbol. Visitors and generations of residents to come will all be inspired by it, and it sets the precedent for true change and healing to take place in communities.

Being a minority isn’t something as simple as being in a specific group of people with a label. Being a minority limits access to things that most folks take for granted, which can have profound affects on a person’s health and well-being.

For example, what folks who do not belong to the LGBTQ+ community probably do not realize is LGBTQ+ folks still lose jobs, are excluded from their spiritual and religious communities, are ignored by service providers including doctors, dentists and utility companies, held in contempt by many, and most often will at some point (if not routinely, which is most often the case) have to face violence, including but not limited to verbal and physical abuse, in schools, workplaces and among friends and family; in some cases there is actual loss of life, whether it is inflicted upon them by someone else or self-inflicted.

Rejecting opportunities to create spaces for LGBTQ+ folks is, by default, an act of exclusion.

It’s not enough to say minorities are all accepted as part of the community because we know it isn’t true, and saying it doesn’t make it any more so.

LGBTQ+ folks suffer in silence and bear the weight of non-acceptance and all of its consequences, forcing themselves to appear invisible or different than they are in communities all across Canada; this is especially true in rural communities where there are very few, if any, social outlets or options for support.

In reference to the letter written by Mr. Saimann to the Council, particularly regarding his statement around causing a divide, I would like to acknowledge the truth in the statement that one or two (or more) views of members in a given community do not, in fact, represent those of the entire community.

Not everyone who is in the LGBTQ+ community wants, needs, or even cares about rainbow crosswalks or any other overt display of inclusion. However, whether it causes a divide more than acceptance has more to do with the community at large than the crosswalk itself.

If a crosswalk is too much to consider, perhaps create and support something else to support LGBTQ+ folks.

When I returned in September 2014 for my little sister’s funeral, the trauma of her loss was only compounded by the reactions I experienced from members of a community I had spent so many years dedicating myself to, reactions brought on not by the loss of my sister, but the fact that I had married a woman.

Many of these reactions came from people I’ve known since I was 9-years-old. Most people would only address my wife as my ‘friend’ (after repeated corrections), in third person, to me, rather than speaking to her directly. To be clear, I am not making accusations; I am simply highlighting one of the many reasons why the visibility of LGBTQ+ lives in rural communities is so important.

My heart swells with pride that so many people cared enough about this issue to show up and fight for it by chalking up a crosswalk, a simple action with big implications.

I believe this is the perfect opportunity for this dialogue to continue. The seed has sprouted.
With respect and hope, and in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community of Valemount,

Brianne Stremel
Victoria, B.C.

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