27.9 C
Niagara Falls
Friday, June 21, 2024
Pride and prejudice: NOTL installs its first rainbow crosswalk
From left, Jamie Knight, Richard Mell and George Webber, along with other members of the town's diversity equity and inclusion committee, were instrumental in getting the Pride crosswalk installed. EVAN LOREE

Niagara-on-the-Lake is, proudly, a little more colourful as June begins. 

To kick off Pride month, the town finished painting a new rainbow crosswalk on Anderson Lane at Niagara Stone Road on Monday night and unveiled it Tuesday morning in a post on its Facebook page. 

This came just hours after the town hosted Pride Niagara for the annual raising of the Pride flag at town hall. 

Pride Niagara organizes the flag raising every year, supplying the flag and organizing the ceremonial event, said Enzo De Divitiis, chair and co-founder of Pride Niagara. 

While municipalities can and have refused to support Pride Niagara in the past, De Divitiis said Niagara-on-the-Lake has never refused.

The town also plans to install five rainbow benches across town, one of which has already been placed at Centennial Park in Virgil.

The remaining four will be at the corner of Mary and King streets in Old Town, Green Park in Glendale, Sparky’s Park in St. Davids and at the Queenston Firehall.

Not everyone was happy about the new crosswalk. A comment posted before lunchtime Tuesday on the town’s Facebook page called it “sickening.”

It was removed later in the day to minimize criticism of the rainbow crosswalk and prevent any more negative comments, town spokesperson Marah Minor said.

Such comments are seen as hateful and discriminatory, she said. They also violate the town’s social media policy.

Members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community see the new crosswalk and the annual flag raising as important symbolic steps, but say there is more to be done.

“The visual representation on the sidewalks, on the crosswalks, the flag raising, the benches, that’s desperately needed,” said De Divitiis.

De Divitiis started Pride Niagara 13 years ago with a couple of friends. 

“It wasn’t fun to live here, if you were queer,” he said, adding there was no social network for the LGBTQ+ community when Pride Niagara started.

In the time he’s spent advocating for human rights and equal representation, he said he’s seen a lot of change. 

“There’s a lot more support” than there was in the past – and more allies, too. 

Despite that, De Divitiis still sees a lot of hate and ignorance, especially on social media. 

“As part of the community, you have to learn quickly to pick your battles,” he said.

Sometimes people “just need more education” and he thinks those people are worth the effort. 

The new crosswalk is painted with the traditional Pride colours, but also has stripes reflecting people of colour, and the Black and Indigenous communities.

George Webber, a member of the town’s diversity equity and inclusivity committee pointed out there is overlap among some communities.

“I thought, ‘Oh, the flag includes members of the Black community,’ ” Webber said.

“I felt really good about that.”

He noted some members of the Black community gay and said he is happy to work with the LGBTQ+ community on the “Black agenda” and on issues in the gay community.

Richard Mell, another member of the diversity equity and inclusion committee, has been part of the town’s effort to make diversity part of the town’s identity.

Mell said he remembers a time when there wasn’t much representation for gay people in the community. No crosswalks, flags or rainbow-coloured benches. 

“If it means one thing to one person, then it’s done its job in my opinion,” he said of the town’s new crosswalk.

There was some controversy in 2022 when the former council was choosing a location for the crosswalk, but Mell thinks it doesn’t matter so much where it is.

Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa said in a news release that the crosswalk is visible to both residents and visitors, being located along one of the main entrance roads to Old Town.

Like De Divitiis, Mell thinks “great strides have been made” for the betterment of the LGBTQ+ community, but he worries about the backlash, especially on social media. 

“Certain comments,” he said, could “make people more fearful.”

NOTL resident Michael Man called the ceremonial act of raising a flag and painting a crosswalk, “significant” and “important.”

“They signal support,” he added.

Man pointed out that mental health issues are particularly prevalent in the LGBTQ+ community.

For example, transgender youth are five times more likely to think about suicide than their cisgender peers, says a study from the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Speaking from his own experience, Man said, “The act of actually reaching out is a mountainous step.”

He said symbolic acts like those taken by the town can help people struggling with sexual identity or the discrimination they might face – but they are not solutions. 

Seeing the now-removed post on the town’s social media, Man noted, “The work is never done.”

He hopes a conversation can begin now that the flag has been raised. That, he said, is how such symbolic acts make a difference. 

“It is only from listening, and truly listening and listening with empathy, we can begin to start to activate change,” he said.

Subscribe to our mailing list