LGBTQ Community Wins Fight For Rainbow Crosswalk In Chatham

Rainbow crosswalk (Photo by Miranda Chant)

Despite the dismay of several councilors, a rainbow crosswalk will be coming to downtown Chatham next summer.

Chatham-Kent council voted 10-7 at Monday night’s meeting to approve Councillor Brock McGregor’s motion to install rainbow crosswalks at King and Second St. in Chatham by next summer.¬† Members of Chatham-Kent Secondary School’s Gender Sexuality Alliance (CKSS GSA) club made a special presentation at the meeting to express their support of the motion.

“It was an exciting moment for sure and I’m really happy members from CKSS GSA could be here for that…I think that was a special moment for us,” says McGregor. “For me, it symbolizes that we’re committed to building an inclusive community, so regardless of your race, religion, and sexual orientation you’re welcome in Chatham-Kent. As a municipality, we’re committed to building that type of community.”

McGregor says he thinks the introduction of rainbow crosswalks is a great first step to a more inviting, inclusive community. He compares the rainbow crosswalk to putting a welcome mat at your door.

“When we look at resident attraction and resident retention, those are the type of initiatives that we have to make. We promote this community as one that people can move to and enjoy a high quality of life and part of that is being able to live your life in the open. This is a big signal that you’re able to do that in Chatham-Kent,” says McGregor.

McGregor says the installation of the project is estimated to cost around $7,000 to $8,000. According to McGregor and staff from the municipality’s Engineering and Infrastructure Services, the painting of the crosswalk will not affect any other municipal projects and timelines.

April Rietdyk, general manager of Chatham-Kent Health & Family Services, says there is a special funding reserve that can pay for the painting of the crosswalk. Rietdyk says provincial funding would pay for about 75% of the project; however, the remaining $2,000 would have to be covered by the municipality.

After several objections from councillors concerned about tax dollars funding the project, Councillor Bryon Fluker requested an amendment be made to the motion, which calls for the community to contribute the $2,000 to reimburse the municipal portion of funding.

“In order to gain some of the required support from some of the other councillors, who felt that there shouldn’t be municipal tax dollars involved, we essentially set up a fundraiser to reimburse that municipal tax portion,” says McGregor. “I can say we’ve already had the $2,000 pledged from members of the community just while sitting in the meeting, so it’s not going to be difficult to meet that commitment.”

Councillor Michael Bondy, who voted against the motion, raised concerns that the municipality will “open the flood gates” by passing this motion. Bondy points out that the municipality already held a flag raising event to show its support and does not think the rainbow crosswalk is a necessary project. He says he fear more and more groups will come forward pleading for their causes to be recognized in the community and eventually, “the whole city will look like a rainbow.” He says he thinks it is time for the municipality to draw the line.

Councillor Steve Pinsonneault also voiced his disapproval at the meeting. He says he cannot support funding going to a project like this without a concern for public safety. He thinks the money should go towards crosswalks in need of crossing guards.

“I expected some of those comments and I think that’s a sign of where we are still as a community. I don’t think this is something we could of done five or ten years ago. I was really glad to be able to vote for it now and see it as a positive step for our community,” says McGregor.

Councillor Trevor Thompson, who expressed his support of the motion, suggested possibly bringing a rainbow crosswalk to Blenheim and other townships in the Chatham-Kent community. Councillor Bob Myers also enthusiastically supported the motion.

“I think this is a good first step and it really was initiated by CK pride, so if there are other community groups or members that come forward… I would be more than happy to support it,” says McGregor.