Crosswalk controversy

Kelowna's mayor will be marshall of the Pride Parade next week, and the city now has a rainbow crosswalk – but not all of Kelowna is so accepting.

Within moments of the rainbow crosswalk being announced and shared on social media, those who disagree with the sidewalk and/or the LGTBQ community were quick to share their disgust.

Some found the brightly painted crosswalk offensive. Some said it was “pushing the gay agenda down their throats,” while others commented it was a waste of taxpayer money.

The Okanagan Pride Society says the reaction was not unexpected.

“The idea that it is being shoved down people's throats, I think, is a very unfair statement,” says the society's Wilbur Turner.

“People say things like 'You have equality now, why do you have to keep having your pride?' and 'Why isn't there straight pride?' But, you know there are still people who feel real discrimination in our community.”

He says many young LGTBQ people still face a harsh and judgmental world.

“There are still young people that are kicked out of their homes when they come out, told they can't live at their homes if that is who they are going to be,” says Tuner.

“For the transgender community, it is still very, very scary to come out. They are completely abused by people when they do.”

He adds that you rarely see same-sex couples walking through downtown Kelowna holding hands, and there is a reason for that.

“It just doesn’t happen,” says Turner. “People are still not comfortable with it. It is very relevant that we still have pride celebrations and that there are these kinds of visible signs of support in the community so people can give us the feeling that this is a good community to live in.”

Turner adds that nearly 80 per cent of those who attend the Kelowna Pride Parade are straight and attend to show their support and acceptance.

“It is a sign that Kelowna is growing and accepting diversity and just adds a richer element to our city,” says Turner.

For those who feel the rainbow crosswalk is a waste of tax money, Turner points out the new intersection at Lawrence and Pandosy would still require crosswalk paint. It's not necessarily different in price, just colour.

Turner says the society had been trying to get a rainbow crosswalk in Kelowna since Vancouver's first one appeared in 2013.

“At that time, I was having a meeting with then-mayor Walter Gray and getting him to sign the Pride Week proclamation, and he showed me a picture of the crosswalk on Davie Street in Vancouver and he said 'Is Kelowna ready for this?'” Turner recalls.

“It was a good question, and I said back 'Let’s put one in, and we’ll find out.'”

Talks with Mayor Colin Basran this year brought the project to fruition.

“It was very exciting news,” says Turner. “There were rumours it was going to happen, but no one knew where it was going to happen or when, so it was quite a big surprise.”

Turner rushed down Thursday morning to see it.

“The design looks really great, especially because they did it on all four corners of the intersection. It looks awesome.

“It is a symbol of equality and diversity, and, of course, there are those who have no tolerance at all, or acceptance for people in our community ... but the majority of people are really happy to see that there is support and acceptance.”

Turner hopes the new crosswalks will also garner excitement and participation in Kelowna Pride Week, which begins on Saturday.

“It is really great to see this at the start of Pride Week because we really want the public to know that Pride Week is for everybody, not just the LGTBQ community. It is for everyone to come out and just have some fun, and celebrate while at the same being aware there is still progress that needs to be made.”

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