October 12, 2017 3:34 pm

Middle school students’ rainbow crosswalk proposal stirs controversy in N.B. town

FILE - The Gay-Straight Alliance at St. Stephen Middle School has asked town council to paint a crosswalk near their school with the pride rainbow.

File/ Global News

A proposal by a group of middle school students for a rainbow crosswalk in support of the LGBTQ community has divided a New Brunswick town.

The Gay-Straight Alliance at St. Stephen Middle School submitted a letter to town council to request a nearby crosswalk be painted with the rainbow flag, as an “act of kindness, to assure everyone inside and outside of the school has support.”

READ: Rainbow crosswalk in Woodstock, N.B. repainted after being vandalized

The proposal was brought forward at a committee meeting on Wednesday evening, and prompted discussion that one councillor described as “heated.”

“It got a bit heated,” said Marg Harding, who has been a St. Stephen town councillor for 10 years.

A copy of the letter submitted by the students at St. Stephen Middle School to town council.

St. Stephen Committee Agenda

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“We have a lovely little town. I would hate for that one meeting to put an end to that, however, I do believe the damage has been done.”

Harding says when she initially read the letter as part of the meeting’s agenda before the long weekend, she immediately agreed with the proposal and expected others in the town to feel the same way.

READ: Halifax’s rainbow crosswalks getting new coat of paint, 5 new locations

But before the weekend was over, she had already received at least one call from a concerned resident.

“I never thought until I got a couple of phone calls and talked to people that there was backlash against it,” she said. “I had no idea there was any sort of backlash.”

She says the middle school’s proposal was discussed for about 45 minutes on Wednesday, with some councillors raising questions and concerns.

The committee meeting did not include a vote on the subject, and the school was invited to come back for a second committee meeting in November to answer more questions.

The lack of immediate support for the rainbow crosswalk led to several social media posts and a flurry of backlash.

WATCH: Rally held in support of Woodstock, N.B. rainbow crosswalk

Katelyn Rodas, a local event planner and real estate agent who is in a same-sex relationship, says she was “taken aback” by the lack of support in the community.

“It’s very disappointing and I feel really sad about the younger generation in our community and the people who are still struggling with their sexuality,” she said.

“There is a divide in our community.”

Rodas, who has two young children, says she is concerned the debate in the community will affect her son, who is in Grade 4.

“This could affect my son feeling secure discussing his home life with his friends,” she said.

St. Stephen Mayor Allan MacEachern found himself explaining council’s actions on Thursday, as debate continued online and in the town’s streets.

WATCH: Rainbow crosswalk in Woodstock, N.B. repainted after being vandalized

MacEachern says he was leery of the proposal because he feared the public would deface the crosswalk, as has happened in other communities.

This past July, a rainbow crosswalk in Woodstock, N.B., was vandalized just two weeks after it was installed.

“I support (the LGBTQ community) 100 per cent. But I was fearing, because I’ve seen it happen in other towns, where people are defacing these things,” he said.

“I don’t want that poor kid that we’re trying to make feel accepted in the school to come to school in the morning and it’s all covered in white paint.”

MacEachern says he instead pitched the idea of a mural that community members could paint together celebrating diversity in religion, race and sexual orientation.

But, he admits, he realized the idea was not well received.

“Here I was trying to keep peace and not divide our community because there is divide on this. There’s no secret, they know that,” he said. “Why would we think St. Stephen would be any different?”

MacEachern says he expects councillors will be receiving lots of feedback on the issue from constituents and will be voting according to that feedback.

“The people who are against it, they have their right to be against it…we can’t tell them how to feel if they have their beliefs,” he said.

“It’s not a bad council. It’s a very good group of people and they want the right thing. Everyone in that room, whether it’s some religious (reason) are not going to vote for it, they do care about people and the kids.”

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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