The intersection of Prescott Street and Reuben Crescent is home to a new Pride Crosswalk. In celebration of Pride Month, the Municipality collaborated with Kemptville Pride in painting this crosswalk the colours of the LGBTQ2S+ (the acronym standing for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Two-spirit, and many more sexualities and gender identities) pride flag. Mayor Nancy Peckford stated on social media that the crosswalk is, “an expression of inclusion and reflects the belief of so many NG residents that we all deserve to belong.”
Jen Crawford, the Executive Director of Kemptville Pride, has explained that rural communities, like ours, are especially in need of such symbols of inclusion. As such, this year’s theme for Kemptville Pride is “Show your rural pride!”
Jen explained, “LGBTQ2+ folks can feel isolated in any community, but it does tend to be highlighted and more of an issue in a rural area.” She stressed that LGBTQ2S+ youth are approximately fourteen times more at risk for suicide and substance abuse than their heterosexual peers. LGBTQ2S+ adults are more likely to suffer from depression. “For a lot of us, our identity is not something that makes us subject to violence, or daily affronts to our dignity, or a denial of basic human rights. But many folks who are of minority sexual or gender identities fight for equitable rights every day.”
The issues faced by the LGBTQ2S+ community are compounded by the relative isolation of rural living. Due to population size alone, LGBTQ2S+ folks have smaller networks to draw on for support. Furthermore, the values of some people living in rural communities have been in conflict with an open acceptance of LGBTQ2S+ individuals.
Kemptville Pride was created after the first Kemptville Pride Parade in 2019. The history of Pride Parades go back to the Stonewall Riots in1969 in New York City. The first Pride Parade in Canada took place in Toronto three years later. The time that it has taken for Pride events to trickle into rural communities speaks to the importance of rural pride: LGBTQ2S+ people have always existed in rural areas, they have just not experienced the same recognition and acceptance as their urban counterparts.
Kemptville’s crosswalk follows in the footsteps of the town of Prescott, which first installed a rainbow crosswalk in 2019. Since then, their crosswalk has been vandalized three times.
In response to a social media post by Mayor Peckford in celebration of the rainbow crosswalk, Susan Wagner-White wrote, “I left town in ‘79 because it wasn’t safe to be gay. It’s taken this long to get to this point.” I caught up with Susan, now a member of Queer Connection Lanark, about what it was like growing up gay in Kemptville. She recalled being called slurs, homophobic graffiti written in public places against her, and the pervasive fear that she would be, “caught out alone and someone would teach [her] a lesson.” While Susan applauds the work being done by Kemptville Pride and the municipality, she notes that comments she has seen on Facebook posts about the crosswalk display an attitude, “similar to what I left Kemptville for in the first place.” She says people who make homophobic comments so often do so in the name of “free speech,” but that it is crucial to understand the “difference between free speech and hate speech in Canada.”
I asked Susan if she thought a symbol like a rainbow crosswalk would have made a difference for her growing up. She replied: “It would have made a difference. There at least would have been the ability to have a dialogue. To talk, express, feel safe. I know I didn’t feel safe.” Nonetheless, Susan is worried that such a symbol of inclusion might lead the general public into thinking the fight for equality is over. She said, “People see the crosswalk and think ‘this is great! Everyone that’s gay must feel safe and secure… Everything is rainbows and puppies and unicorns!”
While allies are necessary, Susan says that people who are not part of the LGBTQ2S+ community have no idea about “the underbelly of ugliness” expressed through homophobia.
In her presentation to Council, Jen said that the solution to some of the historical and ongoing issues faced by the LGBTQ2S+ community is, “creating a supportive neighbourhood, inclusive workplaces, a space for community building for our queer communities.”
Susan stressed that rural queers need to feel they can, “identify as who they are… not feel they have to go into the city to be who they are.”
North Grenville, and other rural areas, can’t afford this kind of drain: diversity is our strength. LGBTQ+ people are not coming into rural communities, they have always been here, trying to live, work, and love just like everyone else does. The rainbow crosswalk is merely a recognition that this is something to be celebrated and fostered within the community.
For more information about Kemptville Pride initiatives, visit https://kemptvillepride.com/