A rally of support was held in Woodstock, NB to show love and solidarity with members of the LGBTQ community, after the town’s rainbow crosswalk was vandalized over the weekend.
Rally organizer Kristen Stephens said she was happy with the turnout, as approximately 70 people showed up dressed in bright colours, highlighting the importance of inclusion.
“This was kicked off absolutely because of the vandalism that took place on the rainbow crosswalk, but it evolved very quickly to show our community, to show Woodstock, just how supportive of a community we are,” Stephens said.
She said the real message she wanted to spread was one of inclusion and a story about a community coming together to show how welcoming they are, and to show that everyone is valued.
“It was about making people feel safe. It was about making people feel supported and loved,” Stephens said.
Stephens moved to Woodstock in 2004 and said over the past 13 years the community has evolved. She said it’s amazing to see a rally in the town square supporting the LGBTQ community.
Woodstock Mayor Arthur Slipp attended and spoke at the rally. He said the community is “disappointed” that someone would vandalize the crosswalk, but is thrilled to see everyone come together in a show of support.
“Clearly you can see our community took offence, and this rally today was just a sign to show that that type of action is not acceptable in our community,” Slipp said.
He said the rally included members of the LGBTQ and other community groups, and said it was about all groups coming together to support one another.
Slipp said whoever defaced the crosswalk needs to “take a more tolerant attitude” and said the incident is not reflective of the community at large.
Raven Stewart, 17, spoke at the event and told reporters she first came out as a member of the LGBTQ community when she was in Grade 7.
“I had decided that I was tired of hiding,” Stewart said. “That I was different than everyone else and being different kind of made me upset, but when I came out, there were so many people around me who were like, ‘hey, me too’, and that ‘hey, me too’ it kind of made me believe that there was still good in the world, even though I was different than everyone else.”
Stewart is a member of her high school’s Gender Sexual Alliance (GSA), a group that leads acceptance, love and support throughout the school and informs people about different genders, sexuality and “different things that come with it.”
“The vandalism disappointed me,” Stewart said. She said Friday’s rally made her feel accepted and loved, especially to see the crosswalk repainted within 24 hours.
“It made me feel very accepted and very loved when they repainted it quickly. It made me feel as though we were supported in a community where it wasn’t supported long ago,” Stewart said.
Pride and Education co-chair Sabrina de Jong said the rally was an important event and said symbols of support such as the crosswalk are crucial in ensuring LGBTQ youth feel supported.
“We know that statistics show that youth who are LGBTQ and feel supported in their communities and in their schools have far better outcomes than those who do not,” de Jong said. “So just having that sign of support for anybody who’s passing by and showing that your community is inclusive, welcoming and supportive is critical for our youth.”
She said there are currently 25 GSAs within the Anglophone school system middle schools and high schools.
“I thought it was very fitting to have this rally here in Woodstock … They are the home of the first Gay-Straight Alliance,” de Jong said.
She said the school system is “very supportive” of LGBTQ inclusive education.
“We have a curriculum that falls in line with this type of movement. We are educating at the elementary, middle school and high school levels, we have support groups for the youth in our schools,” de Jong said. “I feel that there has been I guess a movement of education and awareness within our school systems and we believe that that’s where the change will begin in our society.”
Stephens said while it would be great to have large, annual events, she said she just wants to see the continued growth that they community has had.
“It just goes to show, with education, with acceptance that anything is possible and that maybe at some point we really will have that Utopiac world where people aren’t judged by their labels, but instead embraced,” Stephens said.
© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.