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‘We’re all one community‘: Large gathering in Westlock to paint Pride crosswalk

Click to play video: 'A tale of two Prides: Alberta communities shut down hate, support LGBTQ2S+ communities'
A tale of two Prides: Alberta communities shut down hate, support LGBTQ2S+ communities
The hateful words of a couple at Leduc city council are being overshadowed by the love and acceptance of many more. As Pride Month draws to a close, Morgan Black explores how other Alberta communities like Westlock are celebrating inclusion. – Jun 28, 2023

Westlock had an event Tuesday in which a crosswalk was painted with the progress flag for Pride by the community. A protest was expected but the event instead was met with huge community support.

The idea for the crosswalk was brought up in a request from R.F. Staples School’s Thunder Alliance, which is the secondary school’s gay-straight alliance (GSA).

A GSA is a group of students who work together to build community and work on addressing issues impacting LGBTQ2 and allied youth in school or within their community.

The request was passed through council unanimously.

A poster that says Love is Love from a pride event in Westlock on Tuesday. Global News

Nicky Vranas, teacher lead for the Thunder Alliance GSA, said that everyone, including the LGBTQ2 community members, should feel safe and supported in the entire community.

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“They are safe here, that they’re loved here, and that we’re all one community,” Vranas said.

Vranas added that for many of the youth in the community, the crosswalk is more than just a place where people can cross the street.

“It’s not just a crosswalk to the kids. It’s a symbol of being a part of the community.”

Community members painting a pride crosswalk in Westlock on Tuesday. Global News

“It’s important to our students because it can be really difficult. I mean, high school is difficult as it is. When you add being queer into that and you add being in a small town into that, it can be really, really tough for them,” Vranas said.

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Shaylin Lussier said this crosswalk shows the support that Lussier would have hoped to have had in childhood.

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“This is really a big thing for me because I’ve grown up, born and raised in Westlock, and I have seen my town slowly become this more accepting, loving place. When I was a lot younger, I didn’t have that and I needed it,” Lussier said.

Global News received a tip that there was a drive to get people to protest at the crosswalk. The tip said someone was handing out flyers to all the churches in Westlock and was placing flyers on people’s cars, telling them to contact their MLAs, reach out to the city council, and come out to protest the crosswalk.

Community pride poster from Westlock’s pride event on Tuesday. Global News

The ultimate goals, the crosswalk organizers say, are kindness and acceptance; they don’t expect understanding or to change the opinions of others.

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“At the end of the day, you do have freedom of speech and you can decide how you feel on your own. All we’re asking is that (people) just be kind. That’s what we want. We can all coexist here together. No problem,” Vranas said.

The mayor of Westlock, Ralph Leriger, said people have the right to disagree with the crosswalk and council’s decision but that isn’t going to stop the movement.

“People have the right to peacefully protest, and it’s important for all levels of government to recognize that. And we do. At the end of the day, we don’t agree with that opinion,” Leriger said.

A visual of some of the people from the Westlock Pride event shows how many people were there on Tuesday. Global News

Everyone at the event was prepared for a protest to occur. Yet once the event started, the crosswalk painters were met with something much nicer than a protest: a large group of supportive community members and a large barbecue street party.

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People barbequing at Westlock’s Pride event on Tuesday. Global News

Mayor Leriger said that people don’t need to understand the issues but they need to understand that everyone is human and deserves to feel safe and supported.

“It’s important for the community (to know they) don’t necessarily have to understand all the issues, but you have to understand that those are people that need to feel like they’re supported, welcomed and safe in their own community,” Lergier said.

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