OPINION: Chilliwack city council made a regressive, terrible mistake

While disappointing, spiking the rainbow crosswalk is one backwards step in a city moving forward

Sometimes a small, positive gesture can save a life.

This week Chilliwack gave a middle finger to that idea.

For a young person who might not be average (as opposed to the derogatory “normal”), life can be challenging.

Just about every single kid at some point feels they are too tall/short, skinny/fat, or otherwise not fitting into a frame projected from elsewhere, a picture perceived within.

Racial differences can cause tension. Religious ones, too, particularly if symbols worn make someone stand out.

There are so many ways that young people can feel isolated because the adults around them act more immature than their peers, expressing ignorance in subtle ways.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for Canadian children, according to non-profit Children First Canada.

“Canada was one of the five countries with the highest teenage suicide rates, at a rate of over 10 per 100,000 teens,” the non-profit said in a press release this week in advance of the federal election.

Number 10 on Children First Canada’s list of the top 10 threats to childhood is bullying, which is directly related to suicide.

So how about gay kids? Transgender? I can’t even imagine. The bigotry and casual disdain from fellow teens can be traumatic, even deadly. But of course us adults would always support young people struggling with gender identity issues and uncertainty about sexuality, right?

The slim majority of four at the Chilliwack school board are extremely supportive of young people in this regard, despite the three trustees who express moral outrage at government-approved anti-bullying materials used by teachers.

City council? Surely a more progressive body to respond in a positive way? No. In a disappointing and intellectually lazy move, the mayor and four members of city council voted against allowing for a simple, positive symbol of acceptance at the Sept. 3 meeting.

• READ MORE: Chilliwack council votes to deny rainbow crosswalk request

“People just don’t understand that something as simple as a rainbow button, bracelet or crosswalk could actually save a life,” a Facebook friend privately messaged me. “People just need to see some support.”

Indeed.

Yet city council voted to spike the idea of a rainbow crosswalk with only Coun. Jason Lum voting against.

In defending the vote, this from Coun. Sue Knott: “When it comes to painting a rainbow on a crosswalk, or baby feet, crosses, anti-immigration or anything else, it becomes a political statement. It also becomes a target for vandalism and a canvas for intolerance and hate. You cannot change attitudes by painting crosswalks.”

Carefully read that quote one more time. I had to read it more than twice.

A rainbow crosswalk expresses acceptance of a long-marginalized group. No one is asking for baby feet, crosses, or “anti-immigration,” whatever that means. And if they did, any city council with any self-respect could and should simply reject those messages of misogyny, narrow religious self-promotion, and racism.

Knott here uses both the slippery slope and the false equivalence logical fallacies, common among those who don’t want to make difficult decisions and something we heard leading up to gay marriage acceptance.

There is no need for a city policy to give an easy out for elected officials to deny a rainbow crosswalk on Wellington Avenue, something that more than 40 other municipalities have already done.

This isn’t breaking new ground, this is waking up to reality, being modern and tolerant. Two local First Nations have already done it.

• READ MORE: Rainbow crosswalks add colour to First Nations land in Chilliwack

Back to Coun. Knott’s quote, yes, one can’t maybe change attitudes by painting crosswalks, but you can offer up a gesture of acceptance to a vulnerable person. And you can entrench bigotry and continue to enable bad attitudes by not having the courage to do it.

This is terribly disappointing and regressive, but it’s only one step backwards for a community that is constantly making strides forwards.

I’m still extremely positive about the great steps this city has made in the 13 years I’ve been here.

Chins up folks. City council made a bad mistake, but we’ll get there.


@PeeJayAitch
paul.henderson@theprogress.com

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