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Letter: Springdale council need only look to its own precedent in crosswalk case

A pedestrian with a rainbow umbrella takes the crosswalk.
A pedestrian with a rainbow umbrella takes the crosswalk. - 123RF Stock Photo

Dear editor,

As an alumnus of Indian River High and person who calls Springdale my home, I would be humbled if you would allow me a space in your publication to offer an analysis.

Recently, the Springdale Town Council opted to deny an innocuous request of the IRH Gender Sexuality Alliance for a rainbow crosswalk to be painted near the school to help promote inclusion and acceptance of LGBT persons within the school and the community at large. This is a common sight in many towns and cities across Canada.

Mayor Edison, on behalf of council, was sincere in his explanation that the decision was not homophobic or bigoted, and that Council simply wished to not cause division in an attempt to promote inclusion. I believe him completely, and agree that identity politics can often be divisive. The Mayor went on to say that council should not take an active role in highlighting or celebrating a particular group of people. Unfortunately, this reasoning does not hold up to a dispassionate analysis of the town’s past.

The Town of Springdale has, for more years that I have been alive, endorsed, organized, and contributed to the annual Christmas parade. Every December, the giant wreath can be seen outside the town hall on Main Street while lights trim its rooftop. Taxpayer funds are used to promote the parade and hold events, such as a tree lighting, or free skating at the stadium. The fire department, an agency funded by the town, is so earnest in its participation that its float won an award in the most recent parade. The municipal treasury is being used to celebrate a holiday that is holy to a particular group of people.

Christians have always been prominent in the Springdale community, and with this I take no issue. Many of my oldest friends are deeply faithful, and Springdale is a town that values the celebration of Christianity’s most sacred holiday. I myself, as a student leader a decade ago, organized and participated in IRH’s own float in the annual celebration. Not because I was particularly attached to either the sacred or secular aspects of Christmas, but because council chose to endorse a holiday that was important to our town and many of its residents. For me, that celebration resonated as a point of civic pride.

Perhaps it is because Christmas is so engrained in the Canadian psyche that we do not question why we celebrate it. Christmas lights on Parliament Hill glow in celebration. The premier wishes a merry Christmas to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. And in Springdale, we attend the tree lighting, march and sing along Main Street, and enjoy a steaming cup of hot chocolate at the stadium. This is, if ever there was one, a celebration of a particular group of people, and it happens at all levels of government, including local.

The objective of my scrutiny is not to stop the town’s celebration of the Christmas season. Rather, I wish to highlight that the Town has been endorsing for decades, with both its words and the "taxpayers’ dollars,” to quote Mayor Edison, the celebration of a particular group of people. Because that group forms the majority of Springdale’s residents is of no relevance. It is not the position of governments to be of service to only its majority, but rather all of its people.

The Town has a decades-old precedent that celebrating a particular group of people is acceptable, and that it can be a call for unity and camaraderie. This is not unique. Cities and towns throughout Canada hold parades recognizing the importance of the Christmas holiday, the labour movement, and the LGBT community. If council’s true reasoning regarding the GSA’s sidewalk request is that it wishes remain impartial, I respect that. And in that spirit, I would hope to see no lights atop the town hall this December, no snowplows with giant wreaths or fire trucks with flashing lights in the parade, and no free skates at the stadium to celebrate this joyous season.

However, if the true rationale for Council’s decision is that they do not wish to disturb Springdale’s unity by igniting right-wing reactionaries in the voting public, then I would encourage the members of council to draw upon the precedent I specified and show that celebrating a particular group of people is a perfectly acceptable activity for a local government. They must stand up to regressive die-hards and signal with a unanimous voice that inclusion is a civic value of Springdale.

In many towns and cities across Canada, Pride celebrations are on equal footing with others, such as Christmas and Labour Day. Rather than be divided, residents of these communities unite in celebration of human rights and inclusion. If the Christians of Springdale deserve an annual Christmas parade, tree lighting, and evening skate, surely our LGBT students, as small a demographic as they may be, are entitled to a crosswalk and, more importantly, a clear and undivided signal from council telling them they matter as much as anyone.

Steven Butt
Summerside, P.E.I.

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