A rainbow crosswalk Chilliwack residents painted on their driveway last week after city council denied a crosswalk for Wellington Avenue. The Chilliwack school board voted 4-3 at the Sept. 17, 2019 meeting in favour of painting one in the district office parking lot. (Submitted file)

Rainbow crosswalk coming to Chilliwack school district parking lot

Fractious debate at school board meeting ends with 4-3 vote

The Chilliwack School Board voted four-to-three on Tuesday to paint a rainbow crosswalk in the district office parking lot.

It was a predictably contentious agenda item put forth by board chair Dan Coulter.

“You can’t claim you are inclusive and do nothing,” Coulter said in introducing the motion.

All members of the board spoke, and the discussion fell along the same lines as the controversy over the Ministry of Education-approved sexual identity and gender identity teaching resource known as SOGI 123, an issue that came up during the municipal election last fall.

• READ MORE: New Chilliwack school board sworn in after divisive election

• READ MORE: B.C. trustee’s anti-LGBTQ comments got him barred from schools

Coulter along with trustees Willow Reichelt, David Swankey and Jared Mumford were in support of the rainbow crosswalk, a decision that came two weeks after city council voted to deny a request to paint a rainbow crosswalk on Wellington Avenue.

Opposed to the motion were Heather Maahs, Barry Neufeld and Darrel Furgason.

Maahs began her opposition to the motion by asking for the cost to paint the crosswalk.

Acting superintendent Rohan Arul-pragasam responded: “$367.50.”

But Maahs’ real opposition is that she said she believes it elevates one group over all the rest.

“We do LGBTQ students an injustice by saying they are more important than everyone else,” Maahs said. “There are a great many other students that need our care and attention just as much. To spend this money to impose an ideology on our parking lot is an insult to other students such as autistic students, dyslexic students, socio-economic students, refugee students. I don’t know where this is going to stop.”

Reichelt took particular issue with this response as her son is autistic.

“I’m really, really objecting to using ‘other minorities’ as an excuse to not support this issue. I just heard ‘what about autistic students.’ My son is autistic, he loves the rainbow crosswalk.… It is so offensive to me it is not OK.”

Trustee Neufeld suggested the crosswalk singles out a particular group of students, and that voting to approve one was “giving the city a finger,” a reference to city council’s recent denial of painting a rainbow.

• READ MORE: Chilliwack council votes to deny rainbow crosswalk request

Trustee Furgason pondered whether the board had the legal basis to paint public property, but he was told by senior staff that they indeed do since it is the school district parking lot. Furgason also said painting a crosswalk would amount to “market saturation,” presumably a reference to the ones painted on Squiala and Tzeachten land.

“We already have all stated, including me, we are OK with sexual orientation,” Furgason added. “There is an issue if we think this is going to solve this problem. I would like to ask if these individuals, do these trustees all have a rainbow crosswalk? Does the Chilliwack Progress have a rainbow? I don’t see rainbow at the Chilliwack Progress.”

Trustees Mumford and Swankey also spoke in support of painting the crosswalk to symbolize inclusion and acceptance of LGBTQ students and staff.

“This is not a solution, this is a step, one of many that boards, school districts communities take, when they see the way that individuals are included in civil society,” Swankey said.

Mumford said he consulted with LGBTQ students and gay-straight alliance clubs in school.

“We know that when students feel accepted we know that they achieve more,” Mumford said.

After the prolonged discussion, Coulter called the question and the motion passed to have the crosswalk painted.


@PeeJayAitch
paul.henderson@theprogress.com

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