When I moved to Valemount, I expected to walk into a small town like the ones I grew up in. People are a touch close minded, cold to newcomers, fearful of change, and had a general readiness to weasel deep into the affairs of others that oughtn’t concern anyone but a person themselves.
I was surprised when I learned that in Valemount, we needn’t meddle in the affairs of others. There seemed to be a lack of appetite for converting others. (When I see people meddling or converting, I tell them how much I value this, and explain how it works.) Here, unlike the life I left in Edmonton, that was maybe just a few blocks too close the University of Alberta, there was no call for converting anyone to anything. On campus we’d rage against our friends that held slightly different viewpoints on the issue of the day.
But in Valemount, there are so many people that are so different it was a nonstarter. Valemount is largely white, sporting only Christian churches, but the reality is that people have different perspectives and we know it, because we know everything about everyone. Peace reigned here, I believe in part due to very strong personalities that resided here. (Alice Mortenson and Bob Beeson set great examples for people and came from an age of legends). They set a great example of tolerance, inclusion and kindness.
Let people live. Try and help. I took that as the motto of the town.
It was probably because I came here as a married, white 26 year old man, people just didn’t seem interested in my doings. I was much obliged. In a village anyone can know anything with a little effort, that’s a given. To me it seemed like villagers made a conscious choice not to meddle in others affairs.
I was delighted when, many years after I moved here, Valemount welcomed a gay couple to town with typical zest and affection and later held a fundraiser for them when they were in need.
It was proof positive for me that Valemount took these principals seriously.
The same couple later proposed a Rainbow crosswalk.
Despite a welcoming atmosphere, and three ‘allies’ on a five person council (or so I had thought), the idea was nixed. I was perplexed.
It was straight out of left field. How could this warm, accepting community decide against a symbol of acceptance? It was only at this time when I began to learn about the life that LGBTQ2 were living in Valemount.
You can know what you don’t see. Somehow I had filtered out the shouts of ‘faggot’ and the slurs against gays. I didn’t realize that there were girls and boys who were different. They were hiding because they lived in fear. Often self-loathing and afraid to attempt to come to grips with who they were. Older people too, I would later learn suffered alone in this close knit community.
Some struggled with thoughts of self harm, thoughts of suicide.
I heard stories of local people offering queer kids conversion therapy, a debunked an awful practice.
I was pround when fifty people showed up to chalk a Rainbow Crosswalk in place, defying council and defying the police who were ordered to prevent it from happening. Nixing the crosswalk then, must be the result of some small group holding sway.
But I’m beginning to think that wasn’t the full story.
Is it possible that some people in Valemount thought (and think) that the Rainbow Crosswalk was breaking Valemount’s rules? Do people believe the Rainbow Crosswalk is a form of meddling? Is it perceived as a conversion attempt and unwelcome as such?
If this is the case, I empathize, but I’m going to gently venture that Valemount has this one wrong. Gay, bi, lesbian, trans, queer; they aren’t converting people with their crosswalk. In Valemount most aren’t even risking coming out.
When the cries of ‘faggot’ ring out of a moving vehicle in 2019, they aren’t in irony.
This is the real meddling. Forcing people to stay in the closet.
What I hear is that they would like support to come out. To be able to show who they are without the risk of people meddling, of hazing, harming. They are seeking some assurance that the rest of the community won’t meddle in their affairs like they have for time immemorial.
Some have crafted wonderful arguments against the Rainbow crosswalk and its various problems. If anyone has a better way of connecting to the many gay, lesbian, bi, trans and queer people in Valemount back to the community, show your results. I can assure you, to date, it is not working. We just don’t leave anyone in this community with a cold ambiguous threat to their safety and let it hang over their heads! What would Alice Mortenson say? Bob Beeson?
If you have a time machine and can unsay the slurs and insults we all said that continue to keep people from showing who they are, it’d be a great time to use it. If not, let’s use the tools at hand.
Many victories have been made in Canada for the LGBTQ2 community. Gay marriage, living free of discrimination… All of these are meaningless here. They are null and void when you live in a community that will not acknowledge you, has promised to convert you, and for a very long time has said that it wishes you harm out of the window of a passing car.
Lesbian, gay, bi, queer, trans, two spirited, these people will always be a minority in our community, just like the Baptists, the Catholics, the Ukrainians, the English but unlike these other groups, there has not been an ongoing war of hate, a campaign of lies and active discrimination against them in living memory.
The Rainbow Crosswalk could be an acknowledgement that in Valemount, this particular community has been a very tough place for some people. It could be an acknowledgement that we have broken the rules that keep Valemount strong. We’ve meddled. We’ve tried to convert.
I have a lot of evidence to show the principals behind the Rainbow Crosswalk are ones we already hold dear.