Support for rainbow crosswalk
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Support for rainbow crosswalk

Rev. Sue Campbell of Trinity United Church and Rev. Reuben St. Louis of Gale Presbyterian Church pose with the pride flag to show solidarity with the 2SLGBTQI+ community. Both pastors signed a letter addressed to Mayor Sandy Shantz in support of the proposed rainbow crosswalk in Elmira. [Leah Gerber]

Woolwich Coun. Murray Martin’s negative comments last week about a rainbow crosswalk proposed for Elmira drew a quick response, most of it condemning his comments about the 2SLGTBQI+ community.

The pushback includes renewed calls for just such a crosswalk in support of that community.

For example, two local pastors, Rev. Sue Campbell of Trinity United Church and Reuben St. Louis of Gale Presbyterian Church, sent an open letter to Mayor Sandy Shantz in support of the idea.

“We believe the rainbow is a symbol of God’s grace and love for all creation and we are glad to see it being used to support 2SLGBTQI+ inclusion in our community. The church has had a legacy of harm caused by its homophobia, transphobia, heterosexism and hypocrisy. We repent of this legacy and seek a new relationship with our 2SLBGTQI+ neighbours,” the letter said.

The idea for the crosswalk originally came from a petition started by resident Ben Betts.

“As a community, we need to stand up as a whole to show that everyone is welcomed, loved, accepted, and needed here. [The crosswalk] will serve as a permanent reminder that Elmira is a safe space for all people, that we will stand up to hate and intolerance, that we are committed to building social equity, and that we will continuously strive to learn and grow,” the petition states.

Martin took issue with the use of the rainbow symbol on religious grounds, opposed to the idea of using the rainbow “to promote a lifestyle that is not correct.”

“I’m not in favour of it. It’s not in keeping with the values of this community,” he said at the meeting when the crosswalk proposal was raised.

Countering that, the letter from Campbell and St. Louis agreed that a rainbow crosswalk would be a symbol of inclusion.

“A crosswalk might not seem like much, but it is a visible sign of the greater work of reconciliation and inclusion that is going on in our community and in churches like Trinity and Gale,” the reverends wrote.

Coun. Martin’s comments August 22 came in response to indication of support for Betts’ petition by the Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo Wellington. In an interview this week, CMHAWW’s director of service, Meredith Gardner, explained why it was important for the organization to voice their support.

“We as an organization want to support initiatives in our community [that are] about breaking down barriers and supporting our diverse communities as part of the larger Waterloo-Wellington,” Gardner said.

“It’s about raising awareness. It’s about individuals as part of the community feeling welcomed and supported. It reduces isolation and it begins conversation. And I think it helps to reduce some of the negative consequences of misinformation and homophobia and transphobia,” she said.

Homophobia and transphobia can lead to worse mental health outcomes for LBTQ people, Gardner said.

“We know that the 2SLGBTQSI+… individuals in that community experience a wide range of mental health and addiction issues similar to all Canadians, but we do know that they are at higher risk because of issues related to discrimination and other social determinants of health,” she explained.

While Gardner could not say whether this area in particular needs to be more welcoming to the community, Canadians as a whole need to offer an inclusive space, she said.

“I think it’s important as Canadians that we offer a welcoming and learning and diverse community. So ensuring that we are doing what we can to increase awareness. Increased education is important for all Canadians. Anywhere that we can do [that] to reduce barriers is important.”

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