May 29, 2024

Pride activists have been pushing for the rainbow crosswalk in Guelph for several years, leaving some feeling disheartened by the pace of action. 

The city is “well on the path to installing the crosswalk,” assures Tammy Adkin, Guelph’s manager of museums and culture. They are on target to install one in Spring 2023 across Gordon Street beside the Farmers’ Market.

Jake Somerville has been involved in discussions with the city about the crosswalk for over five years through their volunteer work with Guelph Pride. Frustrated by the slow progress, their daughter created a petition for the crosswalk last year. 

“Every year it gets pushed off and pushed off,” Somerville says. They were told the initial delays were due to construction. “It’s clear there’s more than construction that’s holding off the rainbow crosswalk.” 

In many municipalities, rainbow crosswalks have been first steps leading to changes in policy and procedures, Somerville says. They are symbols showing year-round commitment to making the “city safer for our community.” 

Adkin says the Somerville family are “such a champion for the crosswalk.”  

Somerville’s 11-year-old daughter, Mattea, launched a petition supporting the crosswalk. Jake remembers Mattea saying “Dad, I can’t believe we are still sitting here in 2021 and Guelph still doesn’t have a rainbow crosswalk.” 

Mattea’s petition had over 500 signatures within three days. “It was really, really well received from the community, it got a lot of attention, the media hit right away,” Jake says, reflecting on how great the experience was for Mattea.

Mattea Somervillle waves a rainbow pride flag in front of Guelph City Hall during the student walkout in support of Sex Ed in 2018. Photo submitted by Jake Somerville and shared with permission.

Seven months after launching her petition, Mattea passed away in June of 2022. Many in Guelph’s queer community are mourning her passing. 

Barry Moore, chair of Out on the Shelf, has been attending consultation meetings regarding the crosswalk plan since shortly after Mattea’s petition.  

“The impact she had on the community is truly wonderful,” says Moore, who hopes people keep talking about Mattea and honouring her. 

It was very important to Mattea to ensure the municipality followed through with installing a rainbow crosswalk, Jake says. “So we want to make sure that we can get that done in her honour.” 

The projected date for the crosswalk, Spring 2023, will be the first anniversary of Mattea’s death, leading to questions about reconsidering the timeline. Somerville is hopeful that the city could bring forward the installation date so it doesn’t coincide with this time that people will be mourning her passing.  

Somerville says the LGBT community has difficulty connecting with the municipality, who never contacted the Somerville family regarding Mattea’s petition. They “only received information about what the city was doing through the media and a few twitter exchanges” with Mayor Cam Guthrie. 

Adkin says they haven’t spoken with Somerville, but “certainly we would be most interested in having that conversation.”

Adkin explains that crosswalk considerations include traffic and safety, durability of material, and accessibility. The community advised black and brown stripes and the intersex symbol be included. Some colours cause  “perception issues for people who may have visual impairments,” Adkin says. The city has been carefully considering the plan to ensure both inclusivity and safety.

The city “intends to invite more voices to the conversation before the paint hits the pavement,” Adkin says.  

Moore calls the crosswalk a “great symbol” but stresses that it is essential to back it up with “action, and an ongoing commitment to support queer people.”

Somerville says “if a community doesn’t want to embrace their marginalized communities then the marginalized communities will stay marginalized and they will continue to suffer.” 

The city has committed in writing to their crosswalk plan, says Adkin. “We have identified budget for it, we have had really excellent outreach, we have identified a location, we’ve identified an inclusive design.” 

Adkin says they will ensure “that the long awaited crosswalk is installed as a visual representation for the city’s commitment and support for our community members.” 

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