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Town stands by vote against rainbow crosswalk

April 30, 2018
The Canadian Press

A Newfoundland town is standing by its decision to vote down a rainbow crosswalk despite intense criticism from across Canada.

The Town of Springdale said Monday it denied the request from local high school students because it was concerned about the precedent that would be set.

Mayor Dave Edison stressed in a statement the rejection had nothing to do with discrimination. He did not, however, elaborate on what precedent the town council was concerned about.

"Under no circumstances is anyone on our council against inclusion or acceptance of an individual's sexual orientation, or the way in which they choose to live," he said.

"Our decision was not a criticism of the LGBTQ+ community, nor was it intended to show in any way that we don't support them. We do support them. And, for that reason we recognize our decision was taken in a way different from its intent, and we will work now to rectify this situation."

Jason Sparkes, the town's chief administrative officer, said there would be no further comment Monday from the mayor or councillors.

Ruth Cameron, vice-principal of the local Indian River High School, was the teacher sponsor for three students who went before council last Monday asking it to reconsider the decision. She said they're taking some time to absorb the latest development and won't respond before Tuesday.

Municipalities across the country have created rainbow sidewalks as a show of inclusion for LGBTQ communities.

Springdale is known as a deeply religious enclave on the northern shore of Newfoundland, where Pentecostal services are especially popular.

Edison, who cast the deciding vote in the 4-3 move to reject the crosswalk, has said he was concerned the colourful display could sow acrimony.

"I am just worried that, while they are asking for this to show inclusion, I think it is actually going to create a division," he told a local Nor'Wester reporter.

"I have had people speak to me already about not wanting to see it there. I don't want to create that (animosity) in town."

Prominent Newfoundlanders ridiculed the rejection on social media.

"If you're a LGBTQ kid in Springdale, please know that there are a whole lot of people in Newfoundland and Labrador that support you," tweeted comedian Mark Critch, anchor of CBC's "This Hour Has 22 Minutes."

"Inclusion never divides."

After Springdale confirmed its initial decision Monday, Critch tweeted again: "Hats off to all the other communities that went out of their way to show Springdale youth that they are accepted."

The crosswalk cause has taken on a life of its own, with one town -- Logy Bay-Middle Cove-Outer Cove -- voting to install rainbow crosswalks unasked.

A Go Fund Me page dubbed "Paint the Town Gay!" set out to raise $500. It had just over $2,400 by Monday afternoon.

"Monies raised will cover the cost of paint supplies so the town doesn't have to worry about taxpayer dollars," said Adam Elliott, who created the account Friday. He posted that he's from rural Newfoundland and Labrador but now lives in Sydney, N.S.

Adrian Brett, who grew up in Springdale, has so far collected 4,000 signatures on an online petition he launched Friday, urging his hometown to approve the rainbow.

In an interview earlier Monday before council released its decision, Cameron said the students have received "overwhelming" support from other schools across the country.

"There may have been people that didn't know there was this level of support among the youth. They know now."

Critics may cast Springdale as a social backwater, but Cameron hopes people will realize the high school's impressive young leaders weren't raised "in a vacuum."

"If this area can produce this group of students — all our students are a great bunch — it can't be all bad," she said.

"People are entitled to their own opinions and that's part of the process, but we'd prefer if we could maintain the respectful back and forth that we have with the town."