St. Albert is a lot more colourful this week now that volunteers have painted the city’s first-ever rainbow crosswalk.
About 30 youths and adults cheered Friday afternoon as Mayor Cathy Heron, Outloud co-founder Mia Soetaert and others used rollers to paint a rainbow crosswalk on St. Anne Street in front of St. Albert Place as part of the lead-up to the city's annual Pride barbecue June 16.
“Don’t cross the lines!” cried Heron, as some of the amateur artists got a little overenthusiastic.
The youths were soon sporting paint-covered hands and feet, singing, dancing, and laughing as they worked.
Rainbow crosswalks are catching on in cities such as Edmonton as symbols of support for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer (LGBTQ) community. This was the first time that such a crosswalk had been painted in St. Albert.
Soetaert, a LGBTQ advocate, said she and the St. Albert Outloud group had been discussing this crosswalk with Heron for some time.
“I’m so excited right now. This is such a monumental moment in St. Albert,” she said, smiling.
Heron said Soetaert and Outloud had all the paint and volunteers for the project, and all they needed was permission to paint the street. One chat with city manager Kevin Scoble later, and everything was coming up rainbows.
Heron said the original plan was to put the crosswalk in front of The Collective building on St. Thomas Street, as that’s where Outloud meets, but the paint wouldn’t stick to the special thermoplastic used in the crosswalk that’s already there. The crosswalk in front of St. Albert Place was also more prominent.
Heron said it will send a clear message to the community and will be front and centre at the farmers' market downtown.
“Everyone is allowed to love (whomever) they love,” she said.
About 7,500 people responded to a Facebook poll posted by Heron last May asking if the city should fund a rainbow crosswalk. Some 67 per cent said yes, but others questioned the point of it, its cost, or its impact on public safety.
Heron said that Edmonton had studied traffic around its rainbow crosswalks for years and found no evidence that they increased traffic risks. St. Albert’s crosswalk was funded entirely by the community, although some city staffers volunteered to help paint it.
Rainbow flags and crosswalks show that a community is a welcoming and inclusive place, said Kristopher Wells, faculty director of the University of Alberta’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services.
“This is the kind of thing that doesn’t just change people’s lives, but saves them,” he said, adding that he was thinking of all the youths that had taken their lives due to homophobia or transphobia.
“I don’t think we can underestimate the value of signalling our support for a vulnerable minority.”
Edmontonian Aly Ledene said Pride groups in her hometown of Medicine Hat encountered fierce opposition when they tried to paint a similar crosswalk.
“It was really great to walk by and see a community like St. Albert, which is similar to Medicine Hat in a lot of ways and size, and see that they’re actually doing it and they’re having a lot of fun while doing it as well.”
Heron said this temporary sidewalk would likely stick around until July, and that painting it could become an annual event.