SPRINGDALE, N.L. — Ryan Reid says a lot of people in Springdale recently had their eyes opened to the level of homophobia that exists in the town, but he wasn’t one of them.
The openly gay man says he recognized its existence growing up heavily entrenched in the strong “conservative Christian” community.
“I always knew there was homophobia in Springdale because homophobia is everywhere really, but particularly in small communities it is a bit more prevalent,” Reid said. “I think since the crosswalk thing came up and people got quite vocal against LGBTQ (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer or Questioning) inclusion, a lot of people came out of the woodwork on social media from our community. We have seen a lot more of the homophobia coming forward than I, and I think a lot of people in our community, realized.”
When the Springdale Town Council denied the Indian River High Gender Sexuality Alliance’s (GSA’s) request for a rainbow crosswalk last month, council and the town came under heavy scrutiny for the decision.
While Springdale Mayor Dave Edison said the decision for him personally did not come from homophobic feelings, some of the public comments on social media and media reports reflected it.
Reid is organizing the second annual church service for International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia at the Grace United Church on Wednesday, June 6. While the rainbow crosswalk decision generated a lot of controversy and criticism, locally and across the country, he said last year’s event spurred no backlash that he was aware of. He said it was well attended and the feedback he heard was all positive.
Reid prepared for a different reaction this time around.
“There was a lot of tension over the crosswalk issue, and a lot of people had come out and said some really negative things on social media and so on,” he said. “I have seen a little bit of it so far this year.”
Outside of one “hateful” comment on the event’s Facebook page and a few harsh posts on a media report of the event, he said things have been positive once again. He is anticipating an even larger turnout this year.
The crosswalk controversy did generate a lot of support for the LGBTQ community, and that is a big step in the right direction, according to Reid. June 4-8 is being celebrated as Pride Week in Springdale for the first time, and he says that likely would not have happened without this incident and the attention it generated. The Indian River High GSA was selected as Grand Marshals for this year’s St. John’s Pride. There are also rainbows posted publicly in several areas around Springdale to show people’s support.
While the school’s GSA has remained focused on its own message of inclusion and starting conversations, Reid himself says eradicating homophobia is an important goal.
“That’s how you move forward, by educating and changing people’s minds and perceptions around certain issues,” he said.
The discussions and education taking place in Springdale in the past couple of months have already had successes in that area, according to Reid.
“There have been people who have approached me personally that I would never have thought in a hundred years that would be the ones supportive,” he said. “People definitely are thinking about it, educating themselves, and listening. There is a whole lot of change happening in Springdale.”
Pride Week activities and the Day Against Homophobia event are important initiatives to also show the world Springdale is much more than a homophobic place it has been perceived to be, says Reid.
“Maybe this will be a chance for us to redeem ourselves in the public’s perception of Springdale,” he said.
Springdale Mayor Dave Edison was contacted for a comment for this article, but had not responded as of deadline.
The International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia will take place June 6 at 7 p.m. The GSA and friends will depart the Indian River High parking lot at 6:40 p.m. to walk to the church. Local singers at the event include Richard Clarke, Sharon Dove, Kelly Burt-Hewlett and Robin Bixby. The GSA is also expected to make a presentation as one of the guest speakers.
Pride Week schedule
Monday (June 4) at 6 p.m. — Rainbow flag raising and proclamation at town hall
Tuesday (June 5) at 6:30 p.m. – Information session at the public library
Wednesday (June 6) at 7 p.m. — Grace United Church service for International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. GSA and friends depart Indian River High parking lot at 6:40 p.m. to walk to church
Friday (June 8) from 5-7 p.m. — Family Pride. Events for all ages – games, barbecue, face painting, and crafts.
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