Summerland’s rainbow crosswalks attracted controversy when they were first installed. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)

Summerland’s rainbow crosswalks attracted controversy when they were first installed. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)

COLUMN: All people deserve to be treated with respect

Pride Month, held each year in June, is a time to recognize a segment of our population

Pride Month, held every June in an effort to improve equality for those who are IA+LGBTQ2S, is nothing new in Canada, but it’s still important to create safe spaces of inclusion and celebrate diversity.

I recall a Saturday afternoon just a few years ago, days after Summerland had painted two rainbow crosswalks downtown in a show of support for IA+LGBTQ2S people. The crosswalks were a symbolic gesture, a way of treating with dignity and respect those who have often been ostracized because of who they are.

As a straight white male, I do not understand these experiences. However, I personally want to show respect to all. This is the Golden Rule — treating others the way I’d want them to treat me.

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That Saturday, beginning around noon, I was inundated with alerts on the Summerland Review’s social media feed. There were heated comments from those in favour and from those opposed to the crosswalks. While I have seen lively social media discussions in the past, some of these comments were mean and argumentative.

Two crosswalks, painted as a gesture of inclusion to a segment of our population, had resulted in discord.

Comments coming across my desk, as well as letters written to Summerland council, showed this was a sensitive issue.

Some said they would not use the crosswalks, nor would they drive on the streets where the crosswalks were located. Others criticized the decision to add these crosswalks as a waste of taxpayer dollars. (The cost was far less than one-tenth of one per cent of the Summerland municipal budget at the time.) Other responses repeated some cruel stereotypes.

The comments targeted a segment which includes people I know — relatives, friends and acquaintances. Information from Statistics Canada, released in June, 2021, suggests IA+LGBTQ2S people account for four per cent, or one in 25 Canadians. That’s a significant figure.

Still, even if I didn’t know anyone who was IA+LGBTQ2S, the dialogue still would have been disappointing. All people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

While these comments were flooding in, I was in a church in Penticton, at the funeral for a five-year-old boy who had died in a traffic accident while crossing the street.

I was heartbroken. As this little boy’s family and friends were enduring immense heartache, I had to monitor a barrage of comments, some of them quite hateful, over paint colours used for a crosswalk.

Some people later raised the question of why I chose to report on the matter. Simply, this story could not be ignored. People had strong opinions about the crosswalks and they were not going to be silent.

The crosswalks are still present, but they do not attract the same level of attention or outrage today.

Still, any stories about people within the IA+LGBTQ2S community will generate strong responses. Any mention of this segment of our population will leave some feeling uncomfortable or questioning why the stories were covered. At the same time, for those in the IA+LGBTQ2S community, telling these stories may help them feel recognized and acknowledged for who they are.

Ignoring this or any other segment of our society would be a mistake.

Everyone deserves to be included and to be treated with respect.

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.

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