Rainbow crosswalk met with celebration, condemnation

Campus News

The weather on July 2 may have been pleasant, but it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the newly-painted rainbow crosswalk on UVic’s ring road.

Speeches by UVic staff— including President Jamie Cassels, Vice-President Academic and Provost Valerie Kuehne, and Student Recruitment Communications Assistant Gillian Cornwall — were followed by queer/trans activists Kat Palmateer and Daphne Shaed, who, alongside other protesting students, called out the University’s practices and policies around LGBTQ students.

Opening the ceremony, Cassels stated that the University “strives, aims, and promises to be the most welcoming and inclusive community possible.” He said the crosswalk is a way for the University to “make a statement, and remind ourselves of those commitments” to the queer/trans community.

Cassels thanked numerous campus groups, including UVic Pride, the Positive Space Network, Campus Planning, and UVic Facilities for supporting the crosswalks’ development, stating that it was an opportunity to “involve as wide a number” of community members as possible.

However, Palmateer made it clear to the gathered crowd that the crosswalks’ creation was anything but an inclusive process.

“When I found out about the rainbow walk being something the University wanted to do, I was upset,” Palmateer said to the crowd. “As a queer person, I felt like my voice wasn’t heard in this matter. The university did not seek input from us as queer/trans students.”

Palmateer said they saw the crosswalk as “proudly declaring pride without doing the work” of addressing violence towards queer people. “It’s not ‘cool.’ It’s dismissive, erasive, silencing, and violent.”

Palmateer ended by calling for advocating on behalf of “queer bodies that are subject to police and campus security scrutiny and violence;” allowing students to have proper pronouns on UVic documents; engaging with the LGBTQ community before making decisions on their behalf; and creating “explicit policy around addressing violence that queer and trans folks face from staff, students, and faculty.”

Shaed shared some of her own words as well. “Ultimately, the crosswalk is painted across the backs of marginalized and still-suffering queers,” she said. “It disguises the lived experiences of those of us who attend and have attended this university.” Shaed wore large sunglasses and a bandana to hide her face while speaking — a sign of solidarity with those who have felt their identity erased by the University’s perceived inactions.

With the mood around the proceedings noticeably disrupted, Kuehne took the stage again. She acknowledged that while the crosswalk is a symbol of UVic’s commitment to inclusivity, “it is certainly the case that it is not enough.” She thanked the Palmateer and Shaed for reminding everyone that the crosswalk “is a symbol, but it is not everything.”

As those in attendance proceeded to the official ribbon-cutting, one of the protestors called out the crowd for ignoring Palmateer, and said that participating in the ribbon-cutting would be an act of violence towards queer/trans students. The group proceeded to chant “Policies, not crosswalks” as Cassels cut the ribbon.

Speaking with Palmateer and Shaed afterwards, both were vocal about the lack of engagement with UVic Pride in the leadup to the ceremony.

“[UVic] offered Pride a chance to be there to cut the ribbon. However, the people at Pride that were offered that position were not comfortable doing so. Same as Brontё [Renwick-Shields, UVSS Chairperson]. Brontё was not comfortable cutting the ribbon either and did not go up to cut it and stayed back with us. So it’s not like they didn’t reach out, but they didn’t really ask anything,” Palmateer explained.

Renwick-Shields stated in an email to the Martlet that the UVSS supports “the folx whose voices were silenced and erased at UVic’s rainbow crosswalk ribbon-cutting ceremony yesterday. Their voices are extremely valuable and should have been recognized as such. We hope that UVic’s administration will now take the important concerns voiced yesterday and hold themselves accountable to them.”

Palmateer also said that because UVic Pride is a collective, all decisions must be voted on by the group, and so they and Shaed were only speaking for themselves at the ceremony — and not the collective.

Shaed said that the University failed to act in “a community way,” and that it felt like they only brought Pride on at the end “almost like a tag.”

“It was like, ‘Hey, we’re doing this, do you want us to include you?’ Not in the process, but in the production.”

Palmateer and Shaed explained that nothing they said was meant to be inflammatory or hurtful. “We had legitimate complaints about the way the university operates, and these are ongoing problems that Gillian and Valerie made it seem like it was all in the past,” Shaed said.

It will remain to be seen if those concerns are heard by the University. Speaking with Cassels after the ceremony, he said that he appreciated Palmateer’s message, but ultimately echoed Kuehne by saying the crosswalk is one step of many.

“[Palmateer and Shaed] laid down a further challenge, and for me, the crosswalk symbolizes an acceptance of that challenge — that we’re going to continue making this campus a better place,” Cassels said.