The announcement last week of a temporary rainbow crosswalk being installed downtown for upcoming Pride celebrations isn’t the only additional colour being added to the community.
L’École Phoenix Middle School’s Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) students have begun a project to celebrate inclusiveness and acceptance at their school, as well.
“We have a good core group of kids in the GSA, and last year they wanted to do something big,” says Tammy Williamson one of the teachers who helped form the club when she arrived at the school two years ago as she helps one of the students get their can of paint open. “They came up with some big, crazy ideas – not to say crazy ideas aren’t good.”
One of the less “crazy” ideas they hit on, however, was painting rainbows on some of the concrete barriers surrounding the bus loop in front of the school. They approached the principal, “who happily said yes,” Williamson says, they started fundraising to by the paint and approached the school board to make sure it was okay.
“They happily said yes, too. They even donated money to us,” she says. “Everyone has been very supportive of it.”
There have been rumours circulating that they wanted to do the crosswalk(s) on the street in front of the school, but that the city didn’t allow it because it would be a distraction to drivers, which Williamson says isn’t really the case.
“We asked the school district if we could do the crosswalk and some of the concrete barriers,” she says, “but I think there were some concerns about that and the thought was that we should just focus on the barriers for now and see where it goes from there. We didn’t even end up approaching the city.”
Which is fine with the group, she says, “because we have some big plans to expand it next year.”
Those plans, she says, are to paint the entire front entryway with rainbow leading along the ground to the barriers they painted this year.
Just then, principal Laird Ruehlen came out to check on the process.
“Isn’t it awesome?” he asks with a smile.
“We originally weren’t going to do one colour on each block,” Ruehlen says, “we were going to do each one multicoloured, but when you look at it from the street, I think it’s actually more effective (when each block is one solid colour). It’s just such a great project.”
Not everyone feels that way, though. Williamson says amongst the many positive responses the project has gotten, she has received some negative feedback, as well.
The main negative comment that comes to mind for Williamson is when people ask how a rainbow actually benefits anyone. It’s just a bit of colour, after all. It’s not, in itself, going to change anything, some people say.
“I don’t agree with that at all,” Williamson says, heading over to help another student get their paint can open again. “It’s not just a rainbow. It’s a symbol of inclusion and acceptance. The point behind doing this is to show that we’re a safe place, we’re an accepting place. For all people – no matter who you identify as – this is a safe place for you. That’s what the rainbow means for us.”
Or as Grade 7 student Jenna Beauregard says as she applies the second coat of blue, “It’s just to show our support for everyone,” she says simply, as if any other way of thinking doesn’t make sense to her. “I just hope that people will see it and think this school is accepting. Because we are. Even if people are gay or straight or whatever, there’s no reason for them not to be appreciated and loved.”