It is her one word response to the photo I have sent, a quick pic snapped and texted to her while she is in Germany with her father celebrating the end of her high school years and the start of a new adventure: adulthood.
I have forced a friend to stop at the spot with me in the early evening, and as the setting sun beams down they capture the image. And even though it isn’t finished yet, and the rainbow crosswalk is at that point only half-painted, I know I must send it to my daughter because it reflects something we have discussed more than once.
When my daughter was in Grade 10, she informed me she was a cofounder in her school GSA, or Gay-Straight Alliance. I didn’t even know what a GSA was at that time, but she brought me up to speed quickly as her school had started the very first GSA in Fort McMurray history. For the next year, it was a significant part of her life, and when she decided to finish her high school years in Calgary she continued her involvement in the GSA at her new school.
What I learned through my daughter was that the acceptance of people identifying as LGBTQ was not quite as much of a given as I thought it was; she shared with me that many of her fellow students in the GSA had revealed they lived in fear of revealing this aspect of themselves as they were in family situations where it would not be accepted.
One of the things my daughter also identified was the lack of visible support in our community for people who identify as LGBTQ; she said the story of the pride flag being burned in a parking lot during the last attempt at a local pride event was legendary among youth and seen as indicative of how this community feels about LGBTQ people and issues.
It was for this reason she felt the GSA was critical, and I agreed with her once she began breaking it all down for me. She not only encouraged me but asked me to write about the need for GSAs, and we both found ourselves astonished at some of the responses my work received (like those who claimed the GSAs were “mostly for the parents”, a laughable notion if there ever was one as most parents were similar to me and had no clue what a GSA was) and those who suggested there was no reason LGBTQ people, particularly youth, should feel vulnerable in our community.
Well, no reason except for that time when somebody decided to burn a pride flag when LGBTQ individuals were just steps away. Or the times when LGBTQ people were physically assaulted or threatened with physical violence based solely on this aspect of their persons. Or the times when they felt unsafe, targeted, unsupported and unaccepted.
The lack of visible support for LGBTQ people was indeed troubling. It is intriguing to me that it is really the youth of this community who led the breakthrough in recent years through the formation of school GSAs, and in recent months we have seen a resurgence in the local Pride movement.
And on Saturday evening, as the sun began to set, I had my photo taken in front of a rainbow crosswalk in downtown Fort McMurray, and sent it off to my daughter who might have grown up and away from this place, but for whom this will always be her home town.
That was her simple reply of a vibrant rainbow crosswalk that says, with great simplicity, that this community is accepting. Welcoming. And embracing of people from all walks of life and all demographics, all ages, ethnicities and sexual orientations.
One of the comments I first read on the crosswalk was a question as to *why* there needs to be one. My daughter’s experience in the GSA is why. It is because there are vulnerable youth in our community who do not feel accepted. It is because they need a visible sign that there is room for them in our community, and that we not only accept but celebrate all people.
The more people decrying the rainbow crosswalk, the more powerful the indication that it is needed. The statistics are very, very clear; LGBTQ youth are significantly more likely to attempt to take their own lives. If we can pursue some simple courses of action – like a few cans of paint on a rainbow crosswalk – to show they are supported, then I would suggest we have a moral responsibility to do so. If we have kids in our community who feel they are not accepted by those close to them, then we must show them they ARE accepted by this community as a whole, and what could be more visible than a brightly coloured crosswalk?
And it IS gorgeous, because who could ever think a rainbow anything less than beautiful? And almost a beautiful as the people in this community, all of those who identify as LGBTQ and all of those who don’t; really all of those who come together to build a strong, powerful community founded on acceptance and kindness.
At the end of August, Fort McMurray will see a Pride event celebrated. It is long overdue in my opinion, and I suspect my daughter would feel the same way. I wish she were here for it, but she will be instead be moving on to the next phase in her life and moving into her university residence. I know, though, how proud she will be of this community and all the people who have come together to support each other in initiatives like Pride; and I know that when she visits she will likely want a photo with the rainbow crosswalk to share with her friends to show them that her little city in northern Alberta gets it.
Fundamentally, aren’t communities built on diversity, inclusion and acceptance? Isn’t that truly the core of being Canadian? And don’t we find significant pride in how our citizens came from all over the world to found this nation, and their gender, age, ethnicity, religious belief and country of origin mattered little as long as they wanted to be part of the communities we are building?
If a brightly coloured sidewalk on a downtown street enables just one kid in this community to feel accepted, welcomed and encouraged, then I would happily paint the crosswalk myself to make that happen. I think most of us, even the ones with any reservations about the “need” for such a crosswalk, would do the same; because in the end if it helps one kid then we have become part of the village we always talk about being needed to raise a child.
Fort McMurray, we are that village. Our children – whatever their orientation – are our collective future. How they feel about this community and the adults that inhabit it will be based on how we shape this community for them, and if we want our children to show kindness, love and acceptance then we would be wise to model this behaviour for them.
And if modelling it means one single solitary bright rainbow crosswalk, then I would suggest it might be something we might all want to support to ensure the youth in our community know that Fort McMurray is their home, and they belong here. Because to do any less – to allow them to grow up thinking this community does not accept them – not only weakens them, it weakens us.
And that is why when I saw that rainbow crosswalk with the sun beaming down on it, I smiled; because I knew it would have meaning for my daughter and the thousands of others kids growing up in this town who need to know this community supports and accepts them, no matter who they are or who they love.
Love is love is love; and sometimes all one needs to be reminded of it is to see a rainbow, whether high in the sky or under your feet, lifting you up as you feel the strength of your community beneath you. Fort McMurray, I am always proud of you; this week I am prouder than ever as I see us supporting vulnerable youth in our community through a visible symbol of our acceptance.
It IS gorgeous.