Letter: Keep the public sphere neutral

I read the Editor’s thoughts in the July 11th edition and want to give a more nuanced analysis of why I firmly reject a Rainbow Crosswalk. I in no way doubt the motive and sincerity of those who are pushing for this to happen. However, I must firmly hold the line. Not because I am a “White Male Christian,” which I am not, but because I am a secular individual who values a neutral use of our public spaces more so than any other value.
It is dangerous to give one particular ideology special privileges in the public sphere. Ever since the American and French Revolutions, western societies have allowed less and less invasion of the public realm by non-neutral forces. Gone are the days of public declaration voting, as are the days of universal suffrage by secret ballot. Slowly but surely the marriage between public services and religious denominations has been replaced by secular public services with no ideology besides modest patriotism to the nation states they serve.

Why would anybody propose going in the wrong direction? I have heard the arguments before. The idea that, in this case, LGBT individuals have been so suppressed historically, we must acknowledge this and give them a special exception to our “not in the public realm” rule. I would like to outline why this is not only a step backwards, but also counterproductive. The Editor noted that upon coming to Valemount, he was somehow “surprised” by how tolerant this town was/is given its small size. First of all, he is right, but I want to ask why then would you propose upsetting this balance? How did this town achieve this end? By resisting the attempts of individuals to invade the public space with their ideologies. If the Editor thinks that there were never any attempts to erect a nativity scene on public land, he is very mistaken. Or how often local teachers had to firmly hold the line on the importance of a neutral, secular education in the face of overzealous parents who maybe should have moved to a town where private religious school was available. It is because of this quiet and relatively non-combative secularism that I decided to move back to this “surprisingly open” small town after university when I was all about ideals and openness almost to a fault.

Hold the line on secularism. And if you are arguing that the rainbow flag is NOT a political symbol of a political ideology, read some more. Ask the Toronto Police force what is feels like to be banned from a pride parade. Or the

Conservative Party of Alberta for that matter. The Editor made a huge projection slip by implying that people think a rainbow crosswalk might be a “conversion” attempt. This is laughable. Paint is indelible. Painting the public sphere is a privilege, not a right. I want to explain how we can have a noble goal of public support without violating the sacred principle of neutral public spaces.

I applaud the Gathering Tree on their rainbow bench. It is a private business and private property is the domain of the owners. Further, I admire the owner for personally taking responsibility. For all of the cheap talk I hear from people about supporting the Rainbow Crosswalk, I sure did not see a lot of rainbow flags flying from private homes. We have a word for this, it is called slactivism. In other words, somebody who is trying to chicken out of the true costs to trying to implement their ideals on the broader world. In other words, get the village to bear the load and potential backlash of an ideal you are personally not willing to take any risks to achieve. There was one local family who did fly a pride flag during June. I applaud this. Banners, again, not indelible. A single pride day is reasonable, we have Remembrance Day, Labour Day, Victoria Day, and all of these have less-than-neutral ideologies attached. But a permanent symbol on public property? No.

Our primary job is to be a good and un-antagonistic neighbour. Our local government’s job is to provide water, sewer and roads in an utterly un-ideological way.

Joseph Nusse
Valemount, BC

Did you know the Goat could not operate without people buying the newspaper? Subscribe today!