The new rainbow-coloured crosswalk in downtown Kelowna.

The new rainbow-coloured crosswalk in downtown Kelowna.

Kelowna gets its own rainbow crosswalks

Following the lead of other North American cities, Kelowna paints rainbow-coloured crosswalks at Lawrence and Pandosy.

Just in time for this year’s Okanagan Pride week celebrations, Kelowna has its first rainbow crosswalks.

Where Lawrence Avenue and Pandosy Street meet, City of Kelowna staff painted four “diversity-celebrating,” colourful crosswalks  in the wee hours of Thursday morning.

“I’m  third-generation, born-and-raised in Kelowna,” Okanagan Pride board member Chad Wolfe said, at a noon-hour gathering by the city’s bright new addition.

“Growing up I never thought I’d see this in Kelowna—it’s frickin’ amazing.”

The Kelowna he grew up in, he explained, was religious, conservative and not that open to the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans and Queer community.

“I didn’t even come out until I was 21,” he said. “Now kids are coming out at 13/14… they have much more support these days.”

That said, having the political arm of the city embrace the LGBTQ community is still remarkable, and that’s something he offered kudos to Mayor Colin Basran for spearheading.

“For this to happen on four corners of the city says a lot about our mayor— it’s outstanding,” he said, pointing out that the city’s history with the LGBTQ community wasn’t always so stellar. In the 1990s, Mayor Walter Gray was denounced by  the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal after he insisted he should not be forced to sign a city proclamation for Lesbian and Gay Pride. He was OK with saying it was Lesbian and Gay Day. When he was elected 15 years later he had a change of heart and signed a city proclamation declaring Pride Week.

For all the steps forward, Wilbur Turner, organizer of this year’s Okanagan Pride festival, still sees room for improvement, which the crosswalk is.

“There is still discrimination, especially toward transgendered people,” said Turner, noting that transgendered rights and acceptance seem to be around 20 years behind the times.

Turner still hears about taunting of LGBTQ youth in schools, and he’s also been made aware of situation in a local shelter that underscores the lack of supports needed for at risk youth in the trans community—a group receiving special attention during this year’s pride celebrations.

“Right now I know there’s a young person in a local shelter who identifies as male,” he said. “She’s not allowed to use the male washrooms, and she’s made fun in the female washrooms.”

It’s a dispiriting set of conditions that a community show of support, like the crosswalk, could go a long way in offsetting.

“When something like this happens, it sends a message to people who are struggling that there are good things happening and people who do support and accept you for who you are,” said Turner.

“It’s kind of a way of light for people who are facing a hard time.”

And that light is for people of all stripes, he stressed.

“I firmly believe this vibrant symbol isn’t exclusive to the LGBTQ community,” Turner added.

“The rainbow doesn’t exclude anyone. Everyone can be proud of who they are regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Let’s all come together to help make Kelowna a truly great and diverse city where our young people can grow up to be whoever they were born to be.”

The City of Kelowna says the crosswalk is just another sign that Kelowna is an accepting and welcoming community and it visually demonstrates the city’s spirit of inclusivity.

The rainbow colours as a symbol of the LGBTQ community taking Pride in what it is and who its members are, first appeared in 1978 when San Francisco flag designer Gilbert Baker made the first rainbow flag. Each colour was given a meaning: red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, blue for art, indigo for harmony, and violet for the human spirit.

This year’s Okanagan Pride Festival will run Aug. 8 to 15 and feature 10 events over the seven days.

Included in the celebration is a  larger, more high-profile launch party Aug. 8 at the Rotary Centre for the Arts. Starting at 8 p.m. and featuring music and dancing, admission to the party will be by donation.

Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran will be the grand marshal for the Okanagan Pride March, which goes Aug. 15 at 11 a.m. starting at Stuart Park. It is the first time Kelowna’s mayor has lead the march.

Separate from the main march there will be the first Trans Pride March, which will be held in the Okanagan on Aug. 11.

Starting at the Sails sculpture at the foot of Bernard Avenue downtown at 6:30 p.m. and proceeding to the Laurel Packinghouse at the corner of Cawston Avenue and Ellis Street, the march will be followed by the inaugural #Stand4Trans in the Okanagan event.

For more information on what is happening on Pride Week go to http://okanaganpride.com/

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