‘Symbol of inclusion’: delegates advocate for rainbow crosswalks in Wellington North

KENILWORTH – A group of north Wellington residents hope to get council’s support for rainbow crosswalks in Mount Forest and Arthur.

Rosie Krul, Lindsay Smith, Sarah Corfield, Amy Timberlake and Caitlin Hall delegated before council at its March 20 meeting, advocating for the colourful, ladder-style crosswalks seen in nearby communities such as Minto.

Krul, who grew up in Arthur and attended secondary school in Mount Forest, told council there wasn’t a single “out” person in her high school, only to find out later that several of her friends in drama class — “maybe unsurprisingly,” she said — were gay but didn’t feel safe coming out to each other.

“Far away was the only way that we felt safe before we could even tell our best friends,” she said. 

A decade later, she returned to her hometown, and she says the community has come a long way, but believes there’s still a ways to go.

Acceptance of the queer community in rural areas can be crucial because of a lack of support and resources compared to urbanized areas.

“There is a fairly large population that identifies under that umbrella in Arthur and Mount Forest,” she said.

Rainbow crosswalks would signal 2SLGBTQIA+ people are welcome in Wellington North and that discrimination and homophobia won’t be tolerated in the community, Krul told council.

And having council and township support, she said, would go a long way to making a statement about intolerance and acceptance.

“Not only do we want to stop youth from feeling like we have to leave our community to be who they are, we also don’t want people to feel like they can’t move here and be who they are,” she said.

Councillor Penny Renken remarked that other community groups would be left out if the queer community is highlighted.

“We have cultural communities and we have racial communities and we have heterosexual communities, and they’re not represented anyway in town as to belong,” Renken said.

Renken also questioned spending money on highlighting a single group, but not another.

Krul responded that Renken’s logic shouldn’t be used to “halt representation of any one group in the meantime” and agreed all groups could benefit from recognition.

Renken suggested an alternative to the crosswalks could be to have more education about the queer community, but she stood by her remarks.

Councillor Lisa Hern commended Krul’s courage and thanked her for being aware of crosswalks — a “pretty dry topic” — and suggested business associations be engaged if downtown areas are considered for a crosswalk in the future.

Mayor Andy Lennox said he’s “happy” to support the endeavour, but cautioned Krul not to set expectations too high in the meantime.

“Ideally it would be great to see it in both towns,” Krul said.

She said she felt nervous during the formal and public delegation before councillors, but told the Community News it was important to appear in person and advocate for the crosswalks, which would demonstrate that the queer community is “not just accepted, but also celebrated here.”

Krul, a member of Minto Pride, said the group received “touching messages” from people who once lived in the area and returned last summer to visit to find pride decorations displayed in town.

“There was a decoration on a street where they remember having stuff thrown at them from a car because they were so bullied in high school for being outwardly gay,” Krul said.

“And then to have them go back to that same spot and have that be a spot where it’s now a symbol of inclusion was just so meaningful.”

Despite the $7,000 to $15,000 cost to paint the eye-catching crosswalks with a durable road paint, the symbol will demonstrate “that everyone is welcome in a small town,” Krul said.

“Just because we’re in a small town doesn’t mean we have to be small-minded.”

Krul believes council was largely supportive, and is waiting to hear suggestions for where rainbow crosswalks could go. 

“If they can fund it with a grant that’s fantastic, [and] if they are interested but they don’t have the funds maybe we can open a discussion about fundraising,” she said.