Mt. Ararat High School will get a rainbow crosswalk on June 1, after the school board voted to allow the crosswalk 12-2 on April 27.
The high school’s Civil Rights Team and Gay Straight Transgender Alliance, as well as Mt. Ararat Middle School’s Pride Club, requested permission to paint the crosswalk. The groups will cover the approximately $300 cost with fundraising.
Students will paint the raised crosswalk on Republic Avenue, between the high school and middle school, during an after-school pride celebration on June 1, the first day of Pride Month. The event will include a parade from the high school to the middle school and back, as well as an outdoor party at the high school with music and games.
Rainbow crosswalks have become a symbol of inclusiveness and support for the LGBTQ+ community.
During its April 27 meeting, the Maine School Administrative District 75 Board of Directors debated the crosswalk for about 15 minutes. Eric Lusk, of Harpswell, and Kimberly Totten, of Bowdoin, voted against the crosswalk.
“I don’t have any particular problem with any one entity wanting to have a crosswalk painted on their behalf, but I do think there’s an aspect of fairness that needs to be applicable here,” Lusk said. “If another group comes along and they ask to have a crosswalk painted, how are we going to be able to say no if we let this one go forward?”
Totten expressed concern about negative reactions to the crosswalk and said the district needs “real solutions,” not symbolism, to help students feel safe.
“I think that while it’s good intentions, I’m concerned with what’s going to happen after it’s painted and the negativity that could come out because it’s an emotional situation,” Totten said.
Board member Brandy Robertson, of Bowdoin, said the groups told the board’s Facilities Committee that it is “not a pride crosswalk,” but a crosswalk that “represents all students in MSAD 75.”
“So it seems there’s maybe a misconception that this is a pride crosswalk and not one that represents all students,” Robertson said.
A slideshow that outlines the proposal for the crosswalk and the after-school celebration describes both as pride initiatives.
Corrie Calderwood, a K-12 technology integrator with the district and advisor to both the Gay Straight Transgender Alliance and the Pride Club, told the board that the rainbow is “an all-inclusive symbol of all people and so allies of the LGBTQ+ community are included and have always been included.”
“The rainbow really does symbolize being a safe, welcoming, loving space for everybody,” Calderwood said.
Several board members expressed support for the crosswalk and for LGBTQ+ students and staff.
Mary Hobson, of Topsham, said the board’s primary job is to keep students safe. “If this can, in any way, help with that feeling, that children feel safe at school, I’m more than all for it,” Hobson said.
Ryan Larsen, of Harpswell, said students need “to feel welcome and part of this community to be who they are and be their true selves when they come to school, and I think that things that we can do to help them feel that way when they come on campus, through the doors, are tremendously important.”
Board Vice Chair Hutson Hayward, of Bowdoinham, responded to Totten’s comments about action vs. symbolism.
“She’s right that symbols don’t solve all the problems of the world and action is necessary at both an individual and a collective level,” Hayward said. “But in this case, I think that this is a statement of inclusivity and welcomeness and I think that is an important action. It is an act. And it’s an act that I think this district should take in support of our students.”
Board member Kim Pacelli, of Topsham, also spoke in support of the crosswalk. “I do believe symbols matter and I think climate matters immensely to achieving the kind of deep engagement in these kinds of climate issues that Kim (Totten) is describing,” Pacelli said.
Board Chair Frank Wright, of Harpswell, said he has two transgender family members.
“To me, a symbol is very important, but you’re right, Kim, the deeper question is, how do we help all of our children to feel safe and supported, and that’s really, really important, and that’s the crux of this whole matter,” Wright said.
Wright said the district has made a good start with its “Thrive Project,” which aims to address issues of diversity, equity and inclusion.