Eight-year-old Ryder Mandryk says having a rainbow crosswalk in downtown Simcoe would send a welcoming message to residents and visitors in Norfolk County.
“The crosswalk will show the LGBTQ community that we are supported and celebrated for being who we are,”
Councillors were supportive but balked at spending public funds on the crosswalk, which county staff said could cost $7,000 to $12,000 more than a standard crosswalk.
The estimates vary depending on the width of the intersection and the thermal paint chosen.
So Ryder and her parents set out to raise the funds themselves.
“We’ve seen a ton of support. So far we’ve raised over $5,000 toward the first crosswalk, which is a great start,” Ryder’s mother, Melissa Reu, told The Spectator.
“But we’re not going to stop at one. We would love to see crosswalks in towns throughout Norfolk. As long as Ryder wants to continue raising money and trying to get these crosswalks going, we’re going to help her do that.”
The encouraging messages left on the fundraiser’s website — rydersrainbow.com — are in stark contrast to the anti-LGBTQ vitriol posted on Facebook after Ryder made her pitch to council in the summer.
“Some of those comments were awful, but that just showed us how much work Norfolk County has to do,” Reu said of the public backlash.
“This crosswalk will be a visual sign of inclusion and support. And I think that hate speech and discrimination showed us how much it’s needed in the community right now.”
Ryder said she got the idea for a rainbow crosswalk in Simcoe after reading a newspaper article about a similar crosswalk in Paris, Ont., that was vandalized in May.
Her first move was to approach the county about flying the Pride flag at town hall in June — a first for Norfolk.
“I thought it would be a good start,” said Ryder, who was on hand to help Mayor Kristal Chopp and several councillors raise the flag.
“I was really happy and I felt a lot of joy,” Ryder said.
Reu hopes the crosswalk will draw attention to the serious consequences of a lack of support for LGBTQ kids in rural communities, which can include elevated rates of mental illness and suicide.
“As a parent there’s a lot of fear, especially living in this area,” Reu said.
“There’s a huge lack of education and understanding of what it means to be any of the variations of LGBTQ. The more support, the more acceptance, the more understanding that people have, the more we can bring that figure down.”
No intersection has been chosen for the rainbow crosswalk, and there is still no timeline for its installation. County staff have suggested several streets already slated for roadwork in 2022 as good contenders.
“Somewhere in the main area of Simcoe would be great,” Reu said. “At this point we just want to see this done. I don’t think we realized how difficult it was going to be.”
Chopp told The Spectator she supports a rainbow crosswalk for Simcoe if it can be funded “without any impact to the taxpayers.”
The mayor noted that residents have “endured a number of service cuts” in recent years due to the county’s precarious finances.
Not using tax dollars on the crosswalk should quell any public opposition to the project, she added.
Reu called the county’s lack of financial support “disappointing.”
“I mean, it’s a good project that’s needed for the community,” she said.
“We have to show that even though we’re a small town, we don’t have small minds.”
Ryder said she looks forward to being able to walk across a rainbow crosswalk in downtown Simcoe. She said it will send a message that residents “all stand together” regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
“We are incredibly proud of Ryder for having the strength to do this and having the confidence to be who she is, no matter what other people think,” said Reu, who hopes the project will prompt discussions about inclusion.
“There’s going to be kids that are walking across the crosswalk that will ask their parents what it means,” she said.
“If this isn’t talked about, nobody’s going to learn and nothing’s going to change. We need to start conversations to break down some barriers.”
J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator