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UPDATED: Springdale council stands by decision not to paint rainbow crosswalk

Members of the Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) at Indian River High, from left, Megan Paddock, Maria Lawlor, and Claudia Lilly, address members of the Springdale council tonight (April 23).
Members of the Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) at Indian River High, from left, Megan Paddock, Maria Lawlor, and Claudia Lilly, address members of the Springdale council April 23. - Cory Hurley

GSA students take stock of positives in light of Springdale council vote

SPRINGDALE, NL — Students and teachers representing the Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) at Indian River High continued to focus on the positives of the rainbow crosswalk controversy, even after learning council will uphold its decision to deny the request to paint it.

“I think it discouraging, but it is not the end of the world,” Megan Paddock, a 16-year-old Grade 11 student, said May 1 via telephone from the school.

“We understand we can only benefit from this, and start a really mature conversation about it and educate people on why it is needed.”

Ruth Cameron, Indian River High vice-principal and teacher sponsor for the GSA, says she was disappointed by the decision of council to uphold its original denial of its request for the rainbow crosswalk. However, she said there was some preparation knowing it was a possibility.

“In the meantime, there has been a change and there is a different conversation happening now,” she said. “This doesn’t diminish what has already happened.”

The school’s GSA has some other projects and plans in place, and will accept council’s invitation to work together on future initiatives.

Council and the town in general has come under fire in the past couple of weeks as word of the situation spread across the country. Claudia Lilly, a Grade 12 student who announced during a council meeting last week that she was bisexual, said it is important to keep reactions respectful and professional.

“To be able to work with council is our main priority, and to be able to show acceptance for everybody is what we have been fighting for since the beginning,” she said. “Really, we would like to just have peaceful conversations. We are not trying to start any controversy. We accept and respect council’s decision.”

While some might believe the situation might leave vulnerable youth discouraged from coming out or opening up as to who they truly are, Cameron and fellow teacher sponsor Christina Pelley believes the opposite has taken place.

“Inadvertently, we may not have gotten what we set out to achieve, but I think we have achieved way more than we have ever thought possible,” she said.

Mayor felt bullied

Springdale Mayor Dave Edison stands by his decision to deny the request, even though it has been something that has affected his life significantly in a negative way.

As a spokesperson for the town, the mayor has been often singled out and received the bulk of the harsh criticism.

“Regionally, nationally, and somewhat locally there was a lot of concern about some of the false information that was out there about me personally,” he said. “I have spent numerous hours with the school and with children (over the years), and I have supported that school in many regards. Many of the students on this GSA have spent quite a bit of time around me in different capacities.”

The personal attacks have taken a toll on a mayor who has been widely described — even during this process — as well-respected in the community. 

“Being called homophobic and some of the other remarks are simply outlandish,” he said. “To publicly scrutinize me, when I was only one vote, I thought it was very unfortunate. It was, I’ll use the term, bullying. It is not a word I use a lot, and I don’t like it. I hope I have never been a bully and, in any case, I don’t like to be bullied. Certainly, it went way too far, as far as I am concerned.”

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Springdale council has upheld its decision to deny the Indian River High Gender Sexuality Alliance’s (GSA) request to paint a rainbow crosswalk in town.

The decision was announced April 30 in a press release.

“We stand by our decision not to construct a rainbow crosswalk; however, we are working to find another way to show our support for (the) important work the Gender Sexuality Alliance is doing in our community and at Indian River High School,” the press release states.

Springdale Mayor Dave Edison
Springdale Mayor Dave Edison

The original request was denied by a 4-3 margin at an April 9 public meeting of council. The Nor’wester coverage of the decision sparked nationwide interest. There was a tremendous amount of support for the students and the GSA, as well as harsh criticism of council and some residents of Springdale. Others supported council for taking a stand against setting a precedent for similar requests and the mayor’s stated belief that such a symbol would cause division in the community rather than promote inclusion.

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In today’s press release, Mayor Dave Edison reiterated the town’s support of its residents no matter age, gender, ethnicity, religious beliefs or sexual orientation.

Council does not appear to be against accepting some blame for the negative attention their decision generated.

“We recognize that we could have done a better job in communicating our decision to reject the application by the Gender Sexuality Alliance at the council meeting on April 9,” Edison said in the statement. “We sincerely apologize for not doing a better job explaining our rationale which triggered extensive media coverage and criticism of the town.

“We also apologize to anyone or any group that may have been offended by our decision. Under no circumstance is anyone on our council against inclusion or acceptance of an individual’s sexual orientation, or the way in which they choose to live.”

Again, he expressed the decision was in no way a negative reflection or lack of support toward the LGBTQ+ community, indeed, that council does support that community.

“And, for that reason we recognize our decision was taken in a way different from its intent, and we will work now to rectify this situation,” he stated.

Members of the school’s GSA met with council present more information at a public meeting April 23. Council stated it is committed to working with the group to explore options to acknowledge their work and respecting the views of all citizens.

During the meeting, Coun. Rhodes Pelley asked the group if there was anything else besides the rainbow crosswalk council could do in support of the cause. Megan Paddock, an Indian River High student, replied that the crosswalk was the number-one priority.

That has not deterred council from its willingness to try to find a way to do that.

“Inclusion and acceptance are a big part of what makes our town a wonderful place to live,” Edison stated. “We sincerely look forward to building our relationship with the Gender Sexuality Alliance and finding a way to show support for their important work in our community.”

According to the press release, some suggestions have been a rainbow picnic table on school grounds and flying the Pride Flag at town hall during Pride Week.

The Nor’wester expects to have continued coverage on this decision.

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