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.