It was a summer day in 2014. I was sitting at the conference table with Mayor Walter Gray in his Kelowna office. His secretary, Jan Johnston, had sent him an email that he wanted to show to me. It was a link to a news article and a picture of the new rainbow crosswalks installed on Davie Street in Vancouver.
Walter said, “Wilbur, do you think Kelowna is ready for this?” Being intimately familiar with Walter’s history with Pride, I must say I was a bit surprised. I responded, “There is only one way to find out!” It didn’t happen that year, but a change was in the air.
Later that year, Kelownians elected a new mayor, Colin Basran. As a city councillor, Colin had always been supportive of the LGBTQ community, and he was eager to take up the idea of having rainbow crosswalks in Kelowna.
The following summer, I received a call from a city staffer asking if we (Kelowna Pride) had a preference for where the crosswalks would be installed. They said the paving at the corner of Lawrence and Pandosy would be completed in the next few days, and the crosswalk markings could be installed there. After a consultation, we got back to the City and gave the green light.
The morning after the crosswalks received their over-the-rainbow makeover, a group of community members came out for a mini-celebration. It seemed like quite an achievement for a city that historically wasn’t so accepting.
Before long, an anti-LGBTQ crusader, Nancy Enns, came out in vocal opposition to the colourful crosswalks, a symbol of celebration, inclusion, and diversity. Her claim “it was forcing a lifestyle” on the citizens and her threats to take it to the Supreme Court if they weren’t removed made the news. On a radio talk show, she compared it to painting a swastika on the street.
I met Nancy and had a discussion with her on The Doug and Lisa Show on Shaw TV. She had pages of notes from very unsupportive emails she had received from the public. After letting her know the rainbow’s colours included her, I gave her a hug.
The community would once again rally at the corner of Lawrence and Pandosy in 2016. This time it wasn’t in celebration. It was with Pride flags and candles. The rainbow crosswalks became a gathering place for us to grieve and support each other after the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Florida.
The rainbow crosswalks are now looking a bit tired and in need of fresh paint. What isn’t tired is the idea of a city that celebrates, supports, and fosters inclusion and diversity. Perhaps this is what Jan Johnston had in mind when she sent the email to the mayor. I believe Jan deserves a shout-out for planting the idea that grew a rainbow. The quiet work she did in the background was such a contrast to the noise created by the notorious Nancy.
Photo: L to R: Jan Johnston, Wilbur Turner, and Nancy Enns
Photo Credit: Jan Johnston by Keith Lacey, Kelowna Daily Courier
Rainbow Crosswalks: Glen Eldstrom Photography
Wilbur Turner (he/him), who identifies as gay and queer, is a Kelowna-based writer and advocate who has contributed on many levels to LGBTQ rights, both locally and internationally.