BARRHEAD - The Town of Barrhead will have a Main Street sidewalk painted in Pride colours.
On May 24, councillors unanimously approved a request from a resident to have the west side of the intersection at Main Street and 50th Ave. painted in rainbow colours in early June as a gesture of inclusivity to the LGTBQ+ community.
Caitlin Clarke, an ally of the Barrhead LGTBQ+ community, requested the move at the May 10 council meeting, but councillors, who all spoke in favour of temporarily painting the crosswalk but tabled the decision until May 24, so that council could approve the request with a unified voice. Mayor Dave McKenzie was at a training course that day and was absent.
"It makes a lot of sense," McKenzie said. "It makes marketing the community so much easier, especially when you are trying to attract international physicians, healthcare workers and businesses when you have tangible, visible signs that you are inclusive and welcoming."
It is worth noting that the crosswalk (to be painted in early June as part of Pride month celebrations) will come at no cost to the town ratepayer as the materials and labour will be picked up by volunteers.
However, although councillors unanimously approved the request, it was far from a slam-dunk.
Coun. Rod Klumph said that although he initially wholeheartedly supported Clarke's request, he has found his support in the subsequent weeks waning, in large part due to responses he has received from residents. Klumph was arguably the most vocal proponent for the creation of a pride sidewalk at the May 10 meeting.
"I have received more negative than positive responses,” he said. "I like to listen to the population."
Klumph said he was also concerned about singling out any one group over another, saying that council would be setting a precedent for other similar requests.
"Do we have a policy on advertising on town property for any other groups?" he asked chief administrative officer Edward LeBlanc. "I can see other organizations with a social agenda asking if they can put their message on our streets ... we could end up with slogans, messages on just about every street we have."
He also said from the material residents sent to him that it seems that the LGTBQ community is a "political organization that promotes itself".
"It feels like I am being used, and I don't like that," Klumph said.
He added that he did not like the fact that the rainbow, as a symbol, was being co-opted by the LGTBQ community.
"It is a symbol of many groups, and if we are going to do this, we need to respect older beliefs and traditions," Klumph said. "The LGTBQ community has taken it for themselves. Universally the rainbow is seen as a sign of hope for a better future. If I were to (vote for this), it would because I want the people that come here to believe that the Town of Barrhead is a place where people are safe, live in peace and have a better future."
McKenzie agreed with Klumph that the rainbow used to be a universal symbol, adding that people have used it to celebrate everything from St. Patrick's Day to Easter.
"You can read into what you want to. But here, the multitude of colours simply represents the multitude of differences from personalities, cultural differences, and on and on it goes, but yet that we can all be attached and create a community," he said. "The more diversity we have, the stronger our community is. I know in my heart this will make us a better community."
Coun. Ty Assaf agreed, using council as an example.
"I look around this table, and we are all from different regions of the world. I live in a country that supports that diversity and where I can sit on council," he said.
Assaf also said Klumph's notion that the municipality never singles out a specific group or organization is incorrect. He pointed to the several proclamations council makes annually, including two later that meeting. The first was for Alberta Rural Health Week, which recognizes rural health volunteers and medical professionals, and the other for AccessAblility Week, to celebrate the contributions of Canadians with disabilities and promote efforts to increase accessibility and inclusion.
Both received unanimous support.
McKenzie also said the bulk of the negative comments have been religion-based.
"There needs to be a separation between religion and the state," he said. "We are here to conduct good governance. We are not here to make decisions for this community based on religion and religious beliefs. Our decisions need to be based on the betterment of the community. The state and religion must be kept separate."
Klumph argued people's religious beliefs had to be taken into account, saying before supporting the creation of a Pride crosswalk, he needed assurances that they would be respected.
McKenzie asked Klumph what in council's history would make Klumph believe that council would not respect other people's beliefs?
He noted that on May 25, the town held a Treaty 6 land acknowledgement ceremony with the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation "recognizing a cultural group that is part of our heritage."
Coun. Dausen Kluin said he also supports the creation of a Pride crosswalk.
"It just shows Barrhead is inclusive of everyone. It doesn't matter if you are part of the LGBTQ community, physically disabled, or are from a different culture," he said, adding the crosswalk would not be permanent.
Coun. Dave Sawatzky also said he supported the request and noted it isn't up to council to exclude anyone in the community.
"Everyone has the right to express who they are, regardless of where they live, background, ethnicity or beliefs," he said. "At the end of the day, a sidewalk will not hurt anyone. It also brings us up to speed with what other communities have been doing for at least the last decade."
Klumph then suggested a compromise, moving the painting of a rainbow crosswalk on Main Street to commemorate Pride Month, with council acknowledging that the rainbow is a symbol of other traditions, faiths and cultural heritages.
Assaf disagreed with the addition, but to keep the peace he said he could grudgingly accept the compromise.
"When we have a day that we are proclaiming for a certain group, we don't tie it on to another group," he said. "If these other cultural groups or traditions would like to ask to paint a rainbow in July, we can look at it, but I don't want to take away from the LGTBQ community and respect their request."