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Alberta 2SLGBTQ+ advocates respond to potential pride crosswalk ban in Westlock

Advocates question whether a ban would be legally defensible and suggest it will harm youth in the area.

A move by some Town of Westlock residents to ban rainbow-coloured pride crosswalks has St. Albert 2SLGBTQ+ advocates concerned for the wellbeing of minority youth and questioning whether a ban is legally defensible.

St. Albert's Kristopher Wells, MacEwan professor and research chair for the public understanding of sexual and gender minority youth, said that the proposal is “clearly discriminatory.”

“In the unlikely event that it does pass, it could face a human rights complaint on the grounds of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression,” Wells said. “We just have to look in the past when municipalities refused to acknowledge pride or raise the pride flag, and they had to be taken to court to do so. This is just history repeating itself.”

The proposed bylaw, which would limit crosswalk design to only the white ladder pattern and prevent the town from flying flags other than the Canadian, provincial or municipal flags, was the result of a petition from residents.

Because the petition received support from 10 per cent of the town’s population, the bylaw will go to a referendum. However, town councillors have been vocal in their opposition to the bylaw.

Proponents have billed it as a policy to keep the town politically neutral.

“It’s a waste of time and money,” Wells said. “But I think it speaks to the hate and prejudice that continues to propagate towards the 2SLGBTQ+ community.”

If Westlock approves the ban, Wells predicts that many other important cultural and identity symbols would have to be removed to make the bylaw non-discriminatory, including symbols and displays of public support for Indigenous reconciliation and for French-language liberation.

“It would mean no public celebration of Christmas – that means no Christmas lights, no public displays, and no recognition because that is a religious holiday,” he said. “I think what people forget is that sexual orientation, gender identity and expressions of pride are protected under our Human Rights Act.”

In June St. Albert 2SLGBTQ+ support and advocacy group Outloud travelled to Westlock to join a number of the town’s youth in painting the crosswalk.

At the time, a small group of vocal residents were mobilizing to prevent youth from completing the project.

Kelsey Robbins, Outloud’s executive director, said that Westlock youth took all the initiative for the crosswalk by raising funds, organizing and planning.

It was a moment of immense pride for the youth, as hundreds of people showed up to express support, said Robbins, who prefers to go by the gender-neutral pronoun “they.”

“We heard kids say that they did not feel safe or represented in Westlock until that very moment,” they said. “They didn’t know that anybody was on their side until they showed up at that crosswalk and saw hundreds of people.”

Seeing that Westlock residents will have a referendum on the sidewalk has been disheartening for Robbins.

Back in June, they noticed misinformation being spread online and in posters around Westlock about the purpose of the crosswalk.  

“The only thing this crosswalk represents is a community of people who have historically not felt safe in the area,” they said. “The crosswalk supports the youth of Westlock, who are on this journey.”

Although they don’t feel the move is likely to be popular with most Westlock residents, they are concerned that it may embolden similar groups in other Alberta communities.

“We need to show them that we as a province love these kids and love this community,” they said. “If that doesn’t work for you, you have a right to your opinion and your thoughts, but you don’t have the right to oppress a group.”

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