Cross­walk talk

The Citizen-Record (Cumberland) - - COVER STORY -

Across­walk is once again pro­pel­ling con­tro­ver­sies about in­clu­sion and in­tol­er­ance from a small town onto the na­tional stage. The coun­cil in the small, ru­ral town of Spring­dale, N.L., re­cently de­nied a re­quest from mem­bers of the lo­cal high school’s Gen­der Sex­u­al­ity Al­liance ask­ing to paint a nearby cross­walk in the rain­bow colours – com­monly used to show sup­port for the LGBTQ com­mu­nity.

The re­sult­ing firestorm made na­tional news, and it’s far from the first time this has hap­pened in At­lantic Canada in re­cent mem­ory. In 2016, a 24-year-old man was con­victed of dam­ag­ing a cross­walk painted in the Pride colours in New Glas­gow, N.S. He used an ATV to skid over it, forc­ing the town to re­paint it.

Last year in Prince Ed­ward Is­land, a restau­rant owner’s on­line com­ments against a rain­bow cross­walk led to a dig­i­tal war of words that con­tin­ues to this day in one way or an­other. Look­ing in from the out­side, it would be all too con­ve­nient to la­bel Spring­dale – or any of these places - as hav­ing the stereo­typ­i­cal back­woods men­tal­ity that out­siders as­cribe to ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties.

The re­al­ity, though, is much dif­fer­ent.

Just this week, stu­dents from that Spring­dale school pre­sented their idea to coun­cil again, this time at a public meet­ing. The mayor, coun­cil­lors and most who at­tended seemed open to re­vis­it­ing the idea and out­lined some of their rea­son­ing for re­ject­ing the stu­dents’ pro­posal. Not sur­pris­ingly, those rea­sons ap­pear to have noth­ing to do with ho­mo­pho­bia or in­tol­er­ance of any sort.

More im­por­tantly, the public meet­ing was a calm and ra­tio­nal dis­course that stood in stark con­trast to what was hap­pen­ing on­line. We see it all the time now when it comes to is­sues that can be con­sid­ered even re­motely di­vi­sive. So­cial me­dia sites be­come a sound­ing board for ex­treme views on one side or an­other. Any­one with a mea­sured opin­ion who dares at­tempt to me­di­ate the dis­cus­sion gets buried in the furor.

These sites – most notably Face­book – have been tak­ing it on the chin as of late be­cause of how they use or mis­use our in­for­ma­tion, but we also have to be stew­ards of what we do or say on­line. So­cial me­dia al­lows peo­ple to opine in rel­a­tive anonymity about things they would never say to any­one’s face, and it seems to have al­lowed those with deepseated neg­a­tive and big­oted views a li­cence to pro­mote those ideas pub­licly.

It’s hope­ful to see con­ver­sa­tions like the one hap­pen­ing now in Spring­dale and, as a re­sult, in many other com­mu­ni­ties in the re­gion.

The more that hap­pens – in real life, face to face, per­son to per­son – the more we’ll be able to tune out the back­ground noise.

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