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Woman behind Baie Verte rainbow crosswalk surprised by controversy in Springdale

Betty Downey posing on the rainbow crosswalk in Baie Verte in 2016.
Betty Downey posing on the rainbow crosswalk in Baie Verte in 2016. - Submitted

Betty Downey and Baie Verte mayor have received no criticism

BAIE VERTE, N.L. — Betty Downey, the Baie Verte woman who single-handedly wrote to council to request the painting of a rainbow crosswalk in her town that has been continually repainted the past two years, says there is a narrow-mindedness among some in Springdale.

The mother of a gay son — Ryan — was surprised to learn council in Springdale denied a request from Indian River High’s Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) earlier this month. While she is proud of the support the students have received, she said the objections and criticisms of the student-led organization and their request has been upsetting.

“To be 2018, and you still have people in a community (saying things like this), to me it is just narrow-mindedness,” she said. “People have to be more open and accepting of youth.”

Downey still remembers the joy of having her request accepted by council. It was approved unanimously by the five members of council in attendance during the June 23, 2016 public meeting. As happy as she was with that decision, she said the acceptance in the community and the support across the country was overwhelming.

“I never had anybody who spoke negative about it, at least to my knowledge,” she said. “(The article in The Nor’wester) spread around Facebook like wildfire, and everybody’s comment was wonderful and accepting of it.

“I was surprised at Springdale. It is just a simple thing to do, and it just shows so much support.”

Ryan came out to his family when he was 30-years-old, and Downey said she struggled to hear that he suffered in silence for so long. The judgment and opinions of some people in Springdale has been shocking to her, especially to hear some youth say they opposed the painting of the rainbow crosswalk in the town.

“Imagine those kids who are in the school and in that community, what do they have to face?” she said. “That’s my thing. That’s what I think about. Knowing I had a child who went through it, to think you are 13, 14 or 15 years of age and you know you are gay or lesbian or whatever and you are afraid to speak. Then, you have a community that won’t even put down a rainbow crosswalk, what is that telling those people?”

Springdale Mayor Dave Edison has been adamant the decision was not made on the basis of homophobic or otherwise beliefs. Among other factors, he believed the crosswalk would create a division in the town rather than an inclusion.

Baie Verte Mayor Brandon Philpott was a regular council member when the vote was cast to approve the request from Downey. For him, he said this was a decision to show support for a minority group in the town, something important to portray as a town that is inclusive and accepting of all individuals.

Philpott says he has also not heard a negative comment or response to the rainbow crosswalk in town. He said council did not require a request to continue to paint the symbol on its street, it just decided it was the right thing to do.

“It is just offering your support to a group,” he said. “It is no different, in my view, than supporting the age-friendly group. We all know the history of minority groups, so the only way to get away from that is to turn the tide.”

cory.hurley@thenorwester.ca

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