Welcome to Ellsworth

Young people frequently lead the charge for social change, confronting issues older generations may be uncomfortable or unwilling to discuss. So it was a pleasure to see Ellsworth High School students and their advisors bring fresh eyes and fresh ideas to an old problem: discrimination against the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning) community.

The students propose painting several sidewalks in rainbow colors to send a clear, visual message that Ellsworth welcomes those in the LGBTQ community. The School Board agreed to the concept on school grounds. The City Council was split 3-3 on painting city crosswalks with the seventh councilor refusing to vote. While Michelle Kaplan declined to raise her hand either way, her lack of vote was the deciding factor. The motion failed because there was not a majority in favor.

There was much discussion at the Aug. 17 council meeting about potential safety issues. Rainbow crosswalks meet Maine Department of Transportation standards within certain parameters, including having to put the colorful paint between the white lines and only in areas where the speed limit is 25 mph or less. They have been safely installed in other, more urban, Maine communities, including Bangor and Portland. Plus, what driver is going to miss a crosswalk painted as brightly as a bag of Skittles?

Also at issue was whether a yes vote would prompt a deluge of requests from other groups to paint crosswalks with any number of colors and symbols. Possible, although not everyone is willing to put the same degree of work into a proposal as these students did. They did their research, secured a grant and developed a maintenance plan. The council would have to weigh any future requests on their own merits.

The essential question before the board was twofold: Does the city want to send a public message of acceptance to LGBTQ residents and visitors and are rainbow crosswalks the way to do it? All the councilors voiced support for the students and their message, but only three supported the sidewalk plan. Instead, they opted to form a committee to explore the idea further. Committees can be the place where ideas go to die, especially when key issues have already been weighed publicly. We hope these discussions are more fruitful.

The 2019 Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey found that 3.4 percent of Hancock County high school students identify as gay or lesbian, 10.8 percent as bisexual and 2.1 percent as transgender. Statewide, 13.6 percent of Maine high school students (about 7,500 kids) identify as LGBT. The survey found that those students were twice as likely to feel unsafe at school, more likely to be bullied, less likely to have adult support and more likely to experience violence. Just 37 percent said they feel they mattered to their communities compared to 60 percent of non-LGBT students. They were also nearly four times more likely to have seriously contemplated suicide in the previous year.

Those are our kids and they are hurting. There has been plenty of talk about acceptance in recent years, but a bold, can’t-miss-it statement that this community does care could do even more. If a public crosswalk is not the appropriate place, then let’s find the place that is.

And Ellsworth residents don’t have to wait for the cogs of municipal government to turn in order to send their own message. Rainbow colors have appeared on flags, banners, doors and posters at several downtown businesses. Things are already looking brighter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.