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George Blais | Town and Country Today

No More Rainbows In Westlock; Only ‘White Stripes’

The ban on rainbow crosswalks and pride flags in Westlock has left many questioning the town's commitment to inclusion

Congratulations to the citizens who voted to ban pride flags and rainbow-coloured crosswalks in Westlock.

With their votes, for many, the Westlock community is now perceived as an intolerant town where members of the LBGTQ community are unwelcome.

However, that’s not the case, says Town of Westlock Mayor Jon Kramer, who ran for office on an inclusion platform in a January by-election.

Westlock is a farming community 90 kilometres north of Edmonton with a population of around 5,000.

On February 22, citizens hit the polling booth for a controversial plebiscite vote. This was the question:

Do you agree that: Only Federal, Provincial, and Municipal may be flown on flagpoles on Town of Westlock municipal property, all crosswalks in the Town of Westlock must be the standard white-striped pattern between two parallel white lines, and the existing rainbow coloured crosswalk in the Town of Westlock be removed?

In a narrow victory, anti-pride flag and anti-rainbow crosswalk people won out by just 24 votes over those standing up against the ban. The tally was 663 to 639.

Westlock is now the first community in Alberta with a bylaw banning pride flags and rainbow crosswalks on municipal property. It probably won’t be the last, as the culture wars hit the sidewalks near you. 

“My heart’s heavy. My heart is heavy for people who are struggling with this and for whatever reasons they are,” said Mayor Kramer in a story reported by TownandCountryTODAY. “I still firmly believe that Westlock is a kind and caring community, but this is proof that change is incredibly hard for some people. The promise is this, that having this bylaw on the books will not affect our council’s commitment to inclusion at all.”

The bylaw is binding. So despite its mayor’s and council’s disappointment, Westlock must erase the rainbow crosswalk between the town hall and the Westlock Legion.

Future crosswalks will only be painted in the familiar, white-striped pattern.

The pride flag will no longer flutter from public flagpoles.

Will the rainbow flag fly less frequently in small town Alberta as the culture wars ramp up? Tim Bieler | Unsplash
Will the rainbow flag fly less frequently in small town Alberta as the culture wars ramp up? Tim Bieler | Unsplash

Democracy at Work

We could say that’s how democracy works. 

But it can also seem sad, dull, and old-fashioned.

All for what? 

To give a slap in the face to a marginalized community that just wants to live peacefully in their town.

The idea for the rainbow crosswalk came from brave students from the Thunder Alliance GSA (Gay Straight Alliance at R.F. Staples Secondary School in Westlock. 

“It’s upsetting, and it’s sad, but we’ll come out of it ok,” GSA member Shaylin Lussier said during a press conference at the crosswalk the day after the vote. “We’re going to fight this as much as we can. We’ll do everything to make our world a little brighter.”

Jess Lucas, 15, a member of the gay-straight alliance, said, “It doesn’t just affect our group. It also affects different flags, like the Métis and Inuit flag for truth and reconciliation, and the Ukrainian flag for the war that is happening.”

In the Name of Neutrality

A spokesperson for the Westlock Neutrality Team, the group that petitioned for the vote, said they would have also opposed a Buddhist or Black Lives Matter crosswalk.

In a statement, the group said, “Those who voted for neutrality did so with a genuine desire to keep our community whole and inclusive.”

It was just about the town “staying neutral” on social issues. 

Staying neutral sounds so harmless and fair.

But neutrality can sometimes favour those who harm others or maintain a state of injustice.

Staying ‘neutral’ on social issues helped create the climate for the Holocaust to happen.

Neutrality does not equal ‘unbiased’ as much as the Westlock Neutrality Team says it is.

The colour of 'neutrality' in Westlock } Christian Lue | Unsplash
The colour of ‘neutrality’ in Westlock | Christian Lue | Unsplash

Step Back in Time

At an unrelated press conference, Edmonton Centre MP Randy Boissonnault was asked about the rainbow crosswalk controversy.

“It is beyond disappointing. It is a step backward, and it is a very narrow vote,” he said.

The openly gay Liberal Party of Canada politician recalled leaving Morinville because “as a queer kid, I knew I’d never be able to be myself.”

At the University of Alberta back then, things weren’t much better.

“That was the Ralph Klein Alberta. We are not going back there,” Boissonault said. “And so, this cannot continue.”

But under the appeal of ‘common sense neutrality,’ expect to see more rainbows disappearing in other Alberta towns as Westlock has set a dangerous precedence.

A Pride event in Westlock  | Global News
A Pride event in Westlock  | Global News

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