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IN-DEPTH: A town divided — Springdale ponders the question of inclusion


Springdale could have all the hallmarks of a stereotypical, backward rural, Newfoundland and Labrador town, if you were an outsider looking in this past week.

Western, remote, a smallish, aging population, with five tall steeples jutting into the sky.

When Mayor Dave Edison cast the deciding vote last Monday preventing a rainbow crosswalk near the local high school — a gesture requested by the Indian River High Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) — it was easy to cast the area off as just another place in Newfoundland and Labrador that needs to work on its attitude towards the LGBTQ population.

But reality is never that simple and stereotypes are never what they seem.

There are about 235 students at Indian River High School, which covers grades 7-12. The school’s GSA, comprised of roughly 25 members, sent a letter to the town council requesting a rainbow crosswalk be painted on the torn-up, narrow roadway between the high school and the local stadium.

The GSA didn’t expect an immediate vote on the crosswalk. They expected a chance to speak to council before the vote. They wanted to start a conversation in the town.

And start a conversation they did.

“If we could help just one person not feel alone. There needs to be more love.”
Carissa Burton

Carissa Burton grew emotional as she described what a benefit the crosswalk could be for some people, especially in light of high suicide rates among the LBGT community in North America.

“I get very sad thinking, what if there is somebody here that feels they can’t be included?”

Burton graduated from Indian River a decade ago, when there was no gay-straight alliance or gender-neutral bathrooms that are now prominent in the school.

“When we went to school there was none of this,” she said.

“If we could help just one person not feel alone. There needs to be more love.”

There are some people in town who said there should have been some kind of public forum, to gauge the true feelings simmering below the soundbites and conjecture.

One man, who was a teacher during the denominational education system back in the 1970s, said if a referendum were held, about 65 per cent would vote in favour of the crosswalk.

“The way I look at it, in society people have different lifestyles,” said the senior, who didn’t want to be named. He said he has no personal opinion on whether the crosswalk should get painted or not. But he defended the rights of those who are asking.

He suspects the council — with the mayor’s deciding vote – was attempting to gauge public opinion.

“I don’t think it would be slam dunk against it. This place is personified as the Bible Belt. I think that is sad.”

Dakota Young is graduating this year from Indian River and said she can understand the town not wanting to take on extra expenses and said while the rainbow crosswalk is a good idea, council shouldn’t be condemned for its decisions.

“It shouldn’t be a big deal if they said no. It’s been blown way out of proportion. There’s no need to be slandering council,” she said.

“I understand both sides of the situation. For the most part, this community is tolerant.”

She said Edison coached her in softball and he’s not like how he’s been portrayed in the media.

“He would do anything to help you out. I have no idea why he voted or what he was thinking. It’s a weird situation.”

At Rideout’s Convenience, one clerk and a customer laughed when asked “What do you think the rest of Canada thinks of Springdale?”

“I saw it on Facebook,” said the clerk, who did not want to be named.

“It’s a bit too much to keep up with. We’ve got a beautiful little town here.”

She said the town is split — some for, some against and some just in between. But she said she doesn’t think that Edison meant any harm when he gave the deciding vote, nor when he used the term “coloured people” in a quote to media justifying not giving special rights to any particular group.

“He has nothing against anybody. That I can tell you. I know Dave is not the type to discriminate. He’s mayor, after all.”

None of the people who spoke with The Telegram had anything negative to say about Edison. They think he was put in a difficult spot.

“I got three kids over in the that school,” said Paullette Fudge, who stopped in to buy some snacks.

She likened the objections to the crosswalk to “bullsh--t.”

“Put it there,” she said. “My two girls are all over it.”

Fudge said on Saturday 30 of her family members gathered for a meal to celebrate a christening. Everyone was talking about the crosswalk, reading from Facebook posts on their phones.

A couple of older people at the table stayed silent.

Related stories:

Road trip to a town divided: How Springdale really feels about the rainbow crosswalk controversy

Newfoundland celebrities roast Town of Springdale for rejecting rainbow crosswalk

Springdale's Gender Sexuality Alliance appreciative of support; says name-calling not productive

Springdale council denies request for rainbow crosswalk from Indian River High's Gender Sexuality Alliance

Fudge’s son has special needs requirements and she said inclusion is important and has never been a problem for him.

“They go above and beyond to make him feel included. Why not everyone else?”

Mikayla Colbourne was among a group of students who’d just left the high school drama festival.

“It’s discrimination in some ways,” she said.

Thomas Wellman-Boyde, a Grade 9 student, and Collin Mercer, a Grade 11 student said while they have no connection to the LBGT community, they felt the crosswalk would be OK.

“I never have supported it nor have I done anything to go against it,” Wellman-Boyde said.

Dave and Carolyn Evans were enjoying an evening coffee. They’ll turn up at Monday’s council meeting if their daughter asks them.

They said their daughter struggles with the decision.

“She can’t understand why they wouldn’t allow the crosswalk,” Carolyn said.

“It’s an old town. A lot of people are set in their ways,” her husband said.

Maria Carroll said she doesn’t think Springdale needs the rainbow crosswalk. But the young woman’s reasoning was not about intolerance, but one of fiscal practicality.

“The roads really suck,” she said.

Some speculate that the town had other priorities besides painting a crosswalk rainbow colours. There are many potholes and the crosswalks without visible white lines.

The crosswalk in front of the town’s elementary school, attached to the Pentecostal Church, has faded, barely visible lines on busy Route 390.

Many people say the conversation is getting and down and dirty on social media, but not so much out in public.

“I don’t know the man, so it’s hard to guess how much of this was well-meaning ignorance or straight up intended prejudice,” wrote one local on their Facebook page.

“The result was the same either way. If the intention was to decrease divisiveness, it had the opposite effect.”

A petition on Change.org, started by a graduate of Indian River High, was approaching 1,000 signatures as of Sunday evening.

“The mayor is probably not a bad guy,” wrote another resident.

“The sad fact is that religious bigotry rules the town, which I’ve seen first-hand. It’s not easy to fight against.”

Ryan Reid is training to be a minister at the local United Church. He’s also openly gay.

Reid was born into the Pentecostal Church, the largest congregation of the five different churches in the town. He says he spent many nights at home alone, crying as he tried to will away the gay thoughts he had in high school. The church and its views on homosexuality made things very difficult for Reid in his younger years.

He left the Pentecostal church to find a way to connect with Jesus Christ and not be ostracized by his community. He says he can be gay and religious when you consider Christ himself did nothing but fight for marginalized people. If he fought for the poor, the blind, and the forgotten in society, then Reid says Jesus can fight for the LGBTQ community, too.

On Sunday morning, the Pentecostal church service saw more than 300 people attend. The United Church service, led by Reid, saw roughly 40 people in attendance.

“Homophobia is so built into our system. Even people who don’t go inside any house of worship at all still have homophobic ideas within them, because it’s so built in. Homophobia does have a bearing — not on the council, but on the people they’re thinking about.”

Ryan Reid

Reid says deep-seeded religious sentiment must have factored into the council decision against the crosswalk.

“I do think that for some, not all, it is a faith issue. ‘Why do we need to have that there in our face, why do we have to have that there? If they want to be gay, be gay over there,’” he said.

“This is a very big church town — this is the Bible Belt of Newfoundland.”

Reid doesn’t think Mayor Dave Edison is prejudiced at all.

“Let’s forget the council for a minute — but who the council is thinking about. I’m not saying the council voted because of homophobia. Dave made that very clear, and I believe him,” said Reid.

“Homophobia is so built into our system. Even people who don’t go inside any house of worship at all still have homophobic ideas within them, because it’s so built in. Homophobia does have a bearing — not on the council, but on the people they’re thinking about.”

Edison did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Saturday or Sunday.

Springdale Pentecostal pastor Lindsey Foster, approached after the Sunday morning service, said he had no interest in speaking to The Telegram for this piece, because the authors “had no interest in telling the truth.”

The town council has agreed to revisit the decision, with a public meeting tonight (Monday). Council will hear arguments from the Gender and Sexuality Alliance for the rainbow crosswalk

The town, the province, and the country will wait and see what exactly Springdale’s true colours are.

barbara.sweet@thetelegegram.com

Twitter: bsweettweets

david.maher@thetelegram.com

Twitter: DavidMaherNL

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