SPRINGDALE, N.L. — Inside the council chambers, Claudia Lilly stood calm and collected as she tried to convince Springdale council that painting a rainbow crosswalk in the town was the right thing to do.
Lilly, along with two other members of the Indian River High Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) and its teacher sponsor Ruth Cameron, IRHS vice principal, delivered a presentation April 23 at a special council meeting scheduled to revisit the issue of the crosswalk. It was the first time school representatives spoke publicly since council denied their initial request April 9.
The Grade 12 student told council, and essentially informed the world, she is bisexual. She said she struggled with her sexuality for years, until joining and getting involved in the GSA helped her come to terms with who she really was. Lilly even giggled leading into the joke she had prepared to hammer home her point.
“After finally deciding to join our school’s GSA, within two months I came out publicly as bisexual — meaning I am interested in both males and females,” she said, at this point letting out the giggle. “Although I mostly just care about a good personality.”
Following the presentation, Council chose to review the information presented and defer a decision on the matter to a future meeting.
Outside the town hall afterwards, there was a sign of something much more emotional at play.
After suffering through the heat of tiny council chambers filled to capacity, students Lilly, Maria Lawlor, and Megan Paddock stood arm-in-arm outside during a chilly evening as they spoke to media.
It was Lawlor who first appeared overwhelmed by the gravity of the situation. As she was asked about both the positive and negative comments that have flooded the town from across the country, while she spoke of the encouragement they got from those positive comments, she struggled when she began to talk about the comments that portrayed homophobia and other discriminatory feelings.
Stuck for words, tears welled up in her eyes and the girl, who just a short while before was praised for her composure by members of council following the presentation, was visibly flustered.
Again, her friends next to her rallied around her. However, even Lilly, began to fight back the emotions as she spoke. Her lip quivered and she looked to the sky several times to gather herself.
“It is really encouraging knowing we have so many people backing us up here, and that we are not the only ones who want this crosswalk,” Lilly said. "To see it actually happen would be so amazing to see, especially in such a small town.”
Paddock called the negative feedback discouraging as opposed to hurtful.
“Five people who accepted it compared to the one who doesn’t, it kind of outweighs that,” she said. “It is really gratifying to see more people fight for it rather than against it.”
Cameron said regardless of whether council decides to overturn its decision to deny the request or not, she is proud of the students and the difference they have made through this.
“I am consistently amazed by the group of students we have in the GSA, and in particular these three students,” she said. “They are so mature and, when things got a little bit messy on social media, this group rose above that.”
As council will take some time to review the information presented to them Monday night before revisiting its decision, the group informed council they would be willing to meet with them again if needed.
“It is about starting that conversation,” Cameron said. “Regardless of what ends up happening, we are further along than we were two weeks ago, two months ago, certainly five years ago. If one person feels less alone, we have done our job and we can be very proud of that.”
Upon leaving, the students and school representatives who were in the meeting received a cheer and applause from about 50 people gathered outside town hall.
Josh Stevenson, an adult representative on the GSA and an employee at the Icecap Youth Centre, and Ryan Reid, a GSA advocate and openly gay man in the town, both agreed they would like to see the rainbow crosswalk painted. However, they also share the opinion that a lot of teaching and learning has happened in the town in just a few days.
“It has been really amazing to see the community actually coming together,” Stevenson said. “There has been some discussion around whether this has been inclusive or divisive, and what I have seen is people coming together to stand up and say they actually support this.
“For kids who don’t necessarily feel included all the time, to see their community coming together around something like this is really impactful.”
For Reid, who struggled as a gay youth growing up in Springdale, it is about making a better place to continue to live in, but also to make things easier for youth as they discover who they are.
“I know what it is like to feel alone, so I couldn’t help but feel emotional in there tonight seeing these kids stand up and speak their truth so openly,” he said. “When I am gone from this community, these kids and the kids in future generations will be able to feel — no matter what their gender identity or sexual orientation — it doesn’t have to be something they are depressed about or ashamed of.”
Reid says the GSA doesn’t necessarily have to win the fight for the crosswalk, that the conversation has already started.
Members of council declined comment following the meeting.