Not so long ago I read that Fernie now has a Pride Society organization. The news was unexpected and yet not so. Surprising because it showed me how far this town has matured in sentiment and knowledge and yet not so because over the years I have seen acceptance of diversity becoming more commonplace for people.
When Fernie Secondary School (FSS) students and their teacher came to a Council meeting to request allowing the painting of rainbow crosswalks in town and by the School I didn’t hesitate for a minute to show support. I felt this was a huge move for the school and for the students.
Having raised five children in the school system and having attended FSS myself I know only too well how difficult life during the school years can be for some children. A lot of discrimination goes on during this time. For some kids the negative feelings associated by this treatment never quite go away. Regardless of how successful one becomes in adulthood the damaging action of your peers towards you is never truly forgotten. Discrimination takes many forms, it’s the way the popular group ostracises and makes fun of you when you walk by, it’s the insidious whispering as you move into the classroom, it’s the way you are ignored by teachers or made fun of in gym class by instructors and other students, it’s about the clothes you wear, the style of your hair, whether you are overweight or too thin. The bullying by class mates and the mental and physical beatings from other students who find you fair game never entirely disappears. I live only two blocks from IDES and half a block from the High School before it became 901. For years I wondered why one of my sons took half an hour to get home for lunch, most of the time my other children and their friends who also came over would have finished and been on their way before he arrived. It was only a couple of years ago that they told me the reason. Apparently there was a group of boys that would wait for him so they could beat him up so to avoid them he would run all the way to the Annex and find alternate routes to come home so he didn’t get that beating. Why, you might ask? Well at the time this son was small and very thin, you could count the ribs on him. He was an easy target for bullies. I have heard many stories from individuals that have had bad experiences and none more so than the ones that were considered “different”.
For gay individuals it was much worse. There seemed to be no understanding about this. It was considered a decision that a person made and so there wasn’t much understanding, there was also a fear that if you hung around that person somehow that “condition” would rub off on you.
During the time my children were growing up the neighbourhood kids were always in my home, I loved having them here. Two of the boys were daily visitors and still friends of my children today. It wasn’t until they had graduated and lived on their own that I realized that they were both gay, my daughters laughed at me and said, “mom, didn’t you think it was strange that they both played Barbies with us?”
No, I didn’t find it strange, possibly because I wasn’t looking to find anything strange, there were kids like all the others, I knew their families and I accepted them for who they were. Lovely little kids who enjoyed being in my home as I enjoyed having them and the others here.
This is the message I wanted to convey to the students today when I attended the ceremony at FSS for the rainbow crosswalks that have been painted. When we fully accept an individual for who they are, for who they know they are, that is what we see, a wonderful human being who is as precious as every other.
I want to thank teacher Janet Kuijt for inviting me to say a few words, the ceremony was lovely, speeches by dignitaries including School superintendent Lynn Hauptman and students wearing pride shirts as did many of the adults. The ribbon was cut over the crosswalk and a huge delicious rainbow cake was served. This is one of those happy moments that won’t ever be replicated. Gordon Sombrowski who was present said to me that this year is his 40th anniversary of graduation, and 40 years ago if someone had said he would witness this day he wouldn’t have believed it. I agree, forty years ago this seemed an impossibility but today is a new world. Lynn said that Fernie is the first in the school district to do this and she was very proud to be present for it.
Fernie is indeed a most marvelous place to live, most of the people are progressive and very open minded and for that as mayor, it makes me very proud, and as a citizen I am so very happy to call this town home. Below is what I said to the crowd. I hope some of the words made a small impact. But in my heart I know this group of students already know what my words meant.
Congratulations to the students, administrators and teachers of Fernie Secondary School. This is a great project for many reasons.
It signifies growth in this community–growth in the way we interact with one another.
Growth in the understanding that each person is as diverse as the colours of the rainbow and that this diversity requires acceptance.
The symbolism of this rainbow sidewalk will serve as a constant reminder that although we are created equal we are not created the same.
Each individual is unique and special and needs to be respected and shown consideration.
As Mayor, I am very proud that our school has brought this project forward.
My hope is that by this gesture students and adults will be open minded, kind and thoughtful to each other and to everyone because this is what will make this town and the world a much better place.
Again, congratulations and thank you.