A rainbow crosswalk nears completion on Republic Avenue in Topsham, between Mt. Ararat High School and Mt. Ararat Middle School, on June 1. (Miles Bergquist photo)
As they painted a new rainbow crosswalk on June 1, students from Mt. Ararat High School and Mt. Ararat Middle School were beaming with the pride the crosswalk represents.
As students marched to their asphalt canvas, that being the crosswalk between the middle school and high school, classmates shouted support from nearby bleachers and passing cars. Pride flags of every ilk waved in the air.
The high school’s Civil Rights Team and Gay Straight Transgender Alliance, along with the middle school’s Pride Club, raised money for the project, and members painted the crosswalk themselves.
Alliance member Jasper Dauphinais explained the importance of symbols like the rainbow crosswalk to LGBTQ+ students.
“It’s really special to be able to connect with people that are similar to us in a way that is safe and productive, and to be able to create something with a community is really important,” Dauphinais said.
Dauphinais said the high school’s fostering of the Gay Straight Transgender Alliance makes them feel heard and secure.
“Pride is a time for me to celebrate with my friends and connect with them in a really meaningful way, and to just celebrate myself,” Dauphinais said.
Alliance member Judah Leeman also expressed excitement about the crosswalk.
“It is so important because we get to represent the LBGTQ community in a safe way,” Leeman said.
Jessica Belanger, an assistant principal at the high school, said it wants to provide safe spaces for every student.
“I think that it’s important that these students have a voice in the building, and that they are fairly represented,” Belanger said.
Both teachers and students spoke of the importance of safety, especially in a time when pride events and imagery are attracting anger and opposition.
“I know that there has been a history of discontent, I would say, not necessarily within the building (Mt. Ararat High School), but within the community,” said Belanger.
She went on to say that one of the best ways to combat intolerance is for schools to hold more events like the crosswalk painting.
Brooke Gregory, left, and Kellsie Gregory attend an after-school pride celebration at Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham on June 1. (Miles Bergquist photo)
Terry Martin, an advisor to the Gay Straight Transgender Alliance and social studies teacher at the high school, reflected on the crosswalk’s significance as he scrubbed paint from his fingers.
“It gives visibility to people who sometimes feel invisible. It allows them to know that they are wanted here, and that they feel supported. That’s the big word for me, is support,” Martin said.
Martin said the alliance offers this vital support to students.
“They know we’re here if they need us,” he said.
Martin feels the alliance and the Civil Rights Team are important, but that the struggle for understanding is far from over.
“The new principal, Mr. (Chris) Hoffman, has done a ton. Ms. Belanger and Mr. (Deron) Sharp, the assistant principals, have been very supportive in trying to find ways to make the school more accepting,” Martin said. “I think we have a long ways to go, though. Our school, I think, is like the rest of the country. We’re divided. Some kids have different ideas in their heads. So hopefully this helps them understand.”
The Maine School Administrative District 75 Board of Directors voted 12-2 to allow the crosswalk.
Pride crosswalks and proposals for pride crosswalks have met with mixed reactions in the area. In 2022, motorcyclists defaced a pride crosswalk in downtown Brunswick the same day it was painted, according to The Times Record.
Corrie Calderwood, a K-12 technology integrator with the district and an advisor to both the Gay Straight Transgender Alliance and the Pride Club, told the Anchor what pride means to her.
“Pride means everything. Pride is right here. It is their joy, and them coming together, knowing that they have friends and that they’re accepted and loved. That’s what pride is. And I’m feeling very proud today of everything and all of them,” Calderwood said.
Calderwood has encountered pushback about the crosswalk, both in person and online, but she wore a big smile as alliance members applied violet paint at the end of the crosswalk.
“I’m hopeful that (the pushback) was just a lot of noise, and now that it’s happening, people can just accept it and appreciate it,” she said. “It’s a beautiful rainbow, and we’re all a part of it.”