A group of students has secured the endorsement of the Ellsworth School Board to paint crosswalks at two local schools in rainbow colors, and is seeking final approval from the City Council.
The student-run Gender Sexuality Diversity Alliance at Ellsworth High School came up with the idea to show support for the local LGBTQ community. In addition to repainting sidewalks at the high school and Ellsworth Elementary Middle School, the group also is hoping to get city permission to repaint some crosswalks downtown.
“The students decided to submit a proposal to the City Council because they feel that lack of acceptance and bullying of the LGBTQ+ community is really a problem that runs far deeper than just the schoolyard,” Carrie Kutny, the group’s faculty adviser, said Friday. “So we are hoping for a crosswalk at each school and then two to three downtown.”
The group has received a grant from Healthy Acadia to pay for the paint, and the downtown revitalization group Heart of Ellsworth has offered to pay for other needed supplies, according to organizers. Neither city nor school funds would go toward the project, which is permitted under certain conditions by Maine Department of Transportation rules.
Other municipalities in Maine where crosswalks have been painted with rainbow colors in recent years include Bangor, Orono, Portland and South Portland.
The Ellsworth City Council is expected to discuss the proposal when it meets at 7 p.m., Monday.
On Tuesday, the Ellsworth school board voted 4-1 to support the proposal to paint sidewalks at the two local schools, though which crosswalks would be painted has not been decided. The only member of the board to vote against the proposal was Jennifer Alexander, who said she wanted to make sure that people who are uncomfortable with the idea have their voices heard.
“It isn’t because I don’t support it,” Alexander said Tuesday. “I do have my concerns that I can’t value one’s life over another, and I say that with all the compassion for that community.”
At a school board workshop held online via Zoom on July 28, and at the board’s online meeting this week, no one tuned in to directly speak in opposition to the proposal. Some residents did send messages to Paul Markosian, the board’s vice chair, who read them aloud during the meetings, to voice support or their concerns.
Some of the concerns were from parents of LGBTQ children in the schools who said they worry about bullying increasing if crosswalks at the schools are repainted in rainbow colors. Others said that they don’t believe that homosexuality or transgenderism are appropriate topics to draw attention to in the schools, especially at the elementary or middle school levels. And others said that if some crosswalks were painted to support the LGBTQ community, there should be other crosswalks painted to support other philosophies such as Christianity or “All Lives Matter.”
Kutny told the school board that the idea behind the proposal is to decrease bullying, which LGBTQ children are overly subjected to and which makes their population more prone to depression and suicide.
“Despite what some may believe, or want to believe, this issue is very real in the K-8 grades,” Kutny said. “Ignoring the issue will not make it better.”
Dale Hamilton, chairman of the City Council, said he supports the general idea, though logistical issues such as public safety or crosswalk location could factor into the council’s eventual vote. He said he does not think painting crosswalks in Ellsworth with rainbow colors has to be seen as controversial.
“My opinion is that the request by youth in our community was respectful and intended to bring people together,” Hamilton said. “The rainbow symbol takes on many meanings and one meaning that we should all be able to be united behind is acceptance. “
To reach a suicide prevention hotline, call 888-568-1112 or 800-273-TALK (8255), or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.