More than a year and a half after a split vote killed a similar proposal, the Ellsworth City Council on Monday voted 4-3 to allow a downtown crosswalk to be repainted in rainbow colors.
A group of students at Ellsworth High School approached the council in August 2020 to get permission to repaint two crosswalks downtown in order to show public support for the local LGBTQ+ community. But at the time, City Councilor Michelle Kaplan abstained from voting while the rest of the council voted 3-3.
On Monday night, the same group approached the council again to ask permission to paint one downtown crosswalk at the intersection of Franklin and Main streets, and this time Kaplan was on board.
Previously, Kaplan said she had safety concerns and thought the proposal should be decided by a local referendum. On Monday she said she did not have safety concerns about specifically painting the Franklin Street crosswalk, and that she had met with members of the high school’s Gender Sexuality Diversity Alliance, who told her about being bullied and other difficulties they’ve faced.
“They moved me to tears,” Kaplan said. “I don’t think any kid should go through some of the things these kids went through.”
Voting with Kaplan to approve the measure were councilors Dale Hamilton, Robert Miller, and Casey Hanson, while councilors Marc Blanchette, Gene Lyons and Steve O’Halloran opposed it.
Blanchette said he had safety concerns about painting the crosswalks in any colors other than black and white. Some people have vision problems, he said, and there needs to be clear contrast between a crosswalk and the pavement.
“I want to make sure I can get across that street safely,” he said. “You have to make safety a priority.”
Prior to the vote, there were 90 minutes of comments made by local residents who crowded into the council chamber to weigh in on the idea.
Several high school students spoke in favor of the proposal, saying that young people who don’t fit into traditional gender roles are more likely to be bullied and to suffer from depression. By repainting a downtown crosswalks in rainbow colors, it will demonstrate that Ellsworth as a community supports people of all ages in the LBGTQ+ community, they told the council.
Several adults also voiced support for the idea, but others spoke against it, saying the proposal was too divisive.
Dan Chase, a marine veteran, said that the city should not permit public property to be used to express a particular group’s subjective message.
“Government has to be content neutral,” Chase said. “You cannot provide a message that says ‘we love gays’ any more than you can put up a message that says ‘we hate gays.’”
Some people pointed out, however, that the city erects a Christmas tree outside City Hall each December, and puts pink lights in the building’s cupola to show support for breast cancer survivors.
John Linnehan, a local businessman who is running for a state representative in this year’s elections, said he opposes painting the crosswalk in rainbow colors because of his religious beliefs.
“It’s a sin according to the Bible,” Linnehan said, adding that God hates the sin, not the sinner. “It doesn’t mean you hate [anyone] because you disagree.”
But others disagreed, including local resident and emeritus minister of the local Unitarian Universalist Church Mark Worth, who said Jesus never spoke against same-sex relationships, and countered Linnehan’s argument by paraphrasing passages in the Bible.
“Take the log out of your own eye before you try to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye,” Worth said. “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
In recent years many towns and cities throughout Maine have allowed crosswalks painted in rainbow colors, including Bangor, Bar Harbor, Eastport, Machias, Orono, Portland and South Portland, among others.
Though the Ellsworth City Council previously did not allow downtown crosswalks to be painted in rainbow colors, the city’s school board did allow it at crosswalks at the local high school and the elementary-middle school. Last summer, the city allowed rainbow banners to be hung on downtown light posts in conjunction with the city’s first-ever Pride festival.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Mark Worth’s first name.