05/19/2017 10:37 EDT | Updated 05/19/2017 11:18 EDT

Teaching Tolerance In Small-town B.C.

Andy Clark / Reuters
A bilingual roadside mileage sign is shown along the Sea to Sky Highway in Squamish, British Columbia, July 22, 2010. The signs have been erected written in both English and the language of the Squamish and Lil'Wat First Nations bands who traditionally lived in the area between Vancouver and Whistler. The signs are part of large scale improvements made to the road connecting to two main sites of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games held earlier this year. REUTERS/Andy Clark (CANADA - Tags: TRANSPORT SOCIETY TRAVEL)

Two of my closest friends in high school were gay. The weight of that sentence may feel much lighter today, as society has grown more tolerant, open and inclusive. Kids, regardless of the cultural confines of the town they grow up in, have access to so much information now.

Visibility into lifestyles different from their own and people who may not fit the mold of a next-door neighbour or someone sitting next to them in class. It's easier to give your child a global perspective, whether you live in West Vancouver or Williams Lake.

My hometown wasn't a particularly tolerant place when I grew up there. Squamish in the 1990s was a logging town of roughly ten thousand people, often referred to as the "McDonald's pit stop on the way to Whistler." Despite being less than an hour away from a diverse and progressive urban center, many of the kids I grew up with didn't have access to experiences that might expand a young person's view of the world. And many of the ones who did seemingly weren't interested.

Survival was pretty textbook, something right out of a John Hughes film. Try not to stand out or be different, just blend. To say this was a suppressive environment for a young person beginning to form an identity is an understatement. But I had it easy. Sure, I had been taunted by the resident mean girls a time or two. No one makes his or her way through high school completely unscathed. But never did I endure the torment and relentless harassment that the LGBTQ2+ youth did.

So last year, when news spread of not one but two rainbow crosswalks being installed in the heart of downtown Squamish, I was elated! Finally, my little town was coming around. Kids today could enjoy the many spoils of growing up in a beautiful place like Squamish without facing adversity based on their sexual orientation. Something my 15-year-old self would have never believed.

Small town doesn't have to be synonymous with small-minded.

More recently I encountered a disappointing Facebook post published by someone I went to high school with, degrading the town's decision to install the crosswalks, stating the funds could have been used more productively. And a flurry of intolerant comments would follow. Despite how far we've come, there are still people who feel that teaching tolerance is unnecessary. Parents who feel that teaching tolerance is unnecessary.

According to Trevor Wulff, co-founder of Squamish's first LGBTQ2+ group Safe n' Sound, the District of Squamish voted unanimously in support of installing the rainbow crosswalk. A project that, according to the Squamish Chief, cost taxpayers $15,800 to complete, which seems nominal commensurate to the benefits a symbol of inclusiveness like this has on a community.

Several communities across British Columbia have embraced the iconic symbolism the rainbow represents and installed colourful crosswalks of their own. Castlegar, Smithers and Terrace to name a few. And many are municipalities with populations half the size of Squamish, although some have resorted to crowdfunding campaigns after failing to obtain public funds.

Small town doesn't have to be synonymous with small-minded. Investing in public infrastructure that not only adds colour to a community's landscape but also promotes tolerance and love is hardly a waste of resources. It's an investment in the education and security of its citizens, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

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