A splash of colour has turned an ordinary crosswalk into a rainbow-coloured welcome mat at Wellington Secondary School.
Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools’ first-ever rainbow crosswalk has been painted at the entrance to the high school, which will hold a ribbon-cutting celebration this Friday during its Pride Week celebration.
The crossing has been several years in the making and driven by fundraising efforts of students in the Queer Straight Alliance. The crosswalk has also been supported by the school parent advisory committee, which chipped in $1,500.
“It symbolizes that we support everyone at Wellington and everyone is welcome,” said QSA member Hannah Hitchen, 14, of the crosswalk.
Fellow QSA member Alexis Barudin, 15, said it’s almost shocking they are finally finished fundraising and the crosswalk is actually painted, and said it shows it’s an accepting school district and community, while Bethany Morley, 14, believes the walk brings up the topic of normalizing queer students in schools. If it’s talked about then there will be less discrimination, she said.
A number of QSA members agree, however, that students’ response to the rainbow walk has been mixed and there’s still work to do around inclusiveness.
Barudin wants to see people understand “why we do this and why we just want equality in the school,” she said.
Nanaimo is celebrating Pride Week, June 5-9, and at Wellington Secondary, students will get cupcakes if they dress up in rainbow colours. There will also be students participating in Saturday’s pride parade.
Carlo Pavan, the school district’s social justice advocate, said the beautiful thing about rainbow days is support is overwhelming and there’s the realization the vast majority of students and staff are supportive and on side. But he also notes there’s been a shift in climate because of people like U.S. President Donald Trump.
“It surprises me that … it’s perceptible among these students,” he said about QSA members noticing a mixed reaction to the crosswalk. “Three or four years ago it would have been even less so but I think there’s been this, like I said, dis-inhibiting of people who aren’t comfortable with it, feeling like they’re less likely to be chastised or alienated for speaking out against it; they are not holding it back anymore if they were.”
Pavan said the crosswalk and the message the QSA hopes to send is “this is who we are, this is at our front step” and said now that’s done, the focus can be on education. He’s proud the students reached this point.
“It just goes to show that our students understand and are communicating with us that the work is necessary and needs to continue, that it’s important that representation be visible and that students feel like they can be visible and be themselves in school.”