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Aurora's historic rainbow crosswalk prompts campaign across York Region

Permanent symbols needed to support LGBTQ+ community, advocates say
July 22, 2020
Lisa Queen

The president of Pflag (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) York Region is thrilled with the approval of Aurora’s historic rainbow crosswalk, but he’s not stopping there.

Tristan Coolman aims to convince York Region’s eight other municipalities to each install a rainbow crosswalk over the next two years.

“This is something to be proud of,” he said while standing at the intersection of Yonge and Wellington streets in Aurora where the town’s council has approved the first such crosswalk in York Region.

“I would want everywhere in York Region to have a rainbow crosswalk because all it takes is for someone to see that and to know that they are appreciated and validated within their community.”

A rainbow crosswalk would have been a comforting for Coolman growing up.

“I can remember growing up as a gay kid in Markham and being bullied and picked on and not feeling like I was accepted in my community, let alone my group of friends, let alone my school,” he said.

“All it takes is for another teenager to walk across that crosswalk and to be validated by that every single day. This could be their route to school, and no matter that they face at school or what they face at home, that could be their happy time in life.”

Aurora’s crosswalk will cost $12,600, compared to $8,400 for a standard crosswalk. The difference is being offset by an anonymous $10,000 donation.

Rainbow crosswalks across the region would serve as permanent symbols of acceptance and support for the LGBTQ+ community, said Coolman, who is working on the regionwide campaign with other LGBTQ+ groups.

“Every municipality has LGBTQ people in it, whether people know it or not and whether other community members are accepting of it or not. Now is the time when we’re being measured on our social literacy, every single one of us,” he said.

“And it ties into our character as well. I think what we all need to think about sometimes, no matter how big or small you are in a community, is what legacy you want to leave behind, whether it’s for yourself personally or for your community.”

While Pflag is working with CAYR Community Connections and York Pride on the regionwide campaign, Jacob Gal of York Pride said he’s not tied exclusively to rainbow crosswalks.

Municipalities could choose instead to install rainbow benches, plaques commemorating the region’s LGBTQ+ pioneers and influencers or other landmarks, adding residents could submit ideas.

The important thing is to have permanent, visible symbols supporting the LBGTQ+ community, Gal said.

“It’s time for communities to make statements and make them bold,” he said.

“One of the biggest things is not putting it where it isn’t going to be seen. The biggest thing with the queer community is it is always encouraged to be quiet or it’s always encouraged to do its own little thing. But what people don’t understand is you don’t change a society’s view if you don’t talk about it, and you don’t see it, and you don’t make it part of your daily conversation.”