ELLSWORTH — Some of the crosswalks around Ellsworth schools could get a bit more colorful in the coming months if Ellsworth School Board members approve a plan put forward by the Gender/Sexuality Diversity Alliance (GSDA) at Ellsworth High School to paint them in rainbow colors.
Board members were largely approving of a plan to paint some crosswalks on school property rainbow colors in support of the LGBTQ+ community when it was discussed at a meeting on Tuesday evening, but won’t make a final decision until a meeting in August.
“I fully support this idea,” said School Board Member Abigail Miller. “We need to make extra effort to have these students feel included and protected and part of the fabric of our society and not as outliers.”
The colorful crosswalks, which have been painted in other cities around the state, including Bangor, Portland and South Portland, would be “a really welcoming thing to see when you drive in, especially for prospective students,” said 2020 EHS graduate Aurora Burmeister.
“Coming in from eighth grade to freshman year it’s really intimidating,” Burmeister continued. “Seeing something like that if you were in a minority like that, it’s a wonderful feeling” of “I’m accepted here, I’m welcomed here, and I’m celebrated here.”
Carolyn Kutny, a teacher at EHS who is also an advisor to the GSDA and presented the proposal on Tuesday, said the Maine Department of Transportation has approved alternate colors for crosswalks in certain areas as long as some safety aspects (reflective paint, for instance) are retained.
“As far as the Maine Department of Transportation is concerned, these are considered 100 percent legal,” she said.
The paint and supplies for the crosswalks would be donated by Heart of Ellsworth and Healthy Acadia, said Kutny, and would not cost taxpayers anything.
School Board Vice Chairman Paul Markosian read several comments that had come in about the project, all but one of which was supportive.
One parent, Samuel Bannister, who has several children in the school system, said in written comments that he feels as though the message sent by the crosswalks “is not something for our classrooms.” Bannister said he views the issue as “very divisive” and said, “My six-year-old son doesn’t need to be aware of the sexual preference of anyone.”
“If you are going to paint rainbow crosswalks then what about actual cross crosswalks?” Bannister asked. “I am simply asking that our school system remain neutral and teach acceptance across the board for all walks of life.”
But Tara Young, program coordinator at Healthy Acadia, responded by saying that “There’s really no oppression — especially of Judeo-Christian religions — in our area” and added that “This isn’t a religious issue, this is just an issue of support.”
She said that parents are free to decide when to discuss sexuality with their children, but that the sidewalks don’t necessarily have to prompt that talk with younger children. “You could just say … look at the pretty colors.”
“The painting in itself is something that little kids enjoy; they love bright colors,” said Curriculum Coordinator Rachel Kohrman Ramos. “I think that this will fit into ways in which we are working with our curriculum to celebrate diversity throughout our school district.”
“The only idea that we could see as anything bad happening would be an outlet for its destruction,” said rising EHS senior Benjamin Snow. “But as we saw in Portland, as we saw in Bangor, none of those things happened. To assume that that would happen would be a few-and-far-between leap of judgement.”
As several participants pointed out on Tuesday, LGBTQ+ youth are more likely to be bullied and feel unsafe at school and attempt suicide at several times the rate of non-LGBTQ+ youth. They are also less likely to have support from adults in their lives. But rainbow crosswalks could be an important signal of backing.
“Seeing something that says all the adults in our school support these people would make them think twice before they bully someone or say something,” said Burmeister.