This week, we were shocked and appalled by an incident of vandalism at a local school, where an unknown person used spray paint to write racial and homophobic slurs on an exterior wall at Windsong Heights School.
These types of incidents are always troubling. While Airdrie has historically been a majority white community, diversity has increased in recent years as the city has grown.
According to data from the 2016 federal census, 13 per cent of Airdrie's population identifies as a visible minority. Anecdotally, a staff member at our newspaper who lives near Windsong Heights says the surrounding neighbourhood is filled with young, ethnically diverse families, and our reporters have noticed the same diversity in the school's population while attending events for photos and stories.
As someone wrote in chalk near the school in the days after the incident, "words hurt." The use of racist and homophobic terms communicates to people in the targeted demographics that they are not welcome in this city. This is especially troubling considering the incident occurred at a school, where young and impressionable students may see and internalize the slurs.
Simply put, Airdrie is better than that. As a community, we should all denounce in the strongest of terms the use of hate speech and derogatory language. It has, therefore, been encouraging to see an outpouring of support from the neighbourhood following the incident. Where the two hateful words left us discouraged, the abundance of positive messages left in chalk around the school denouncing hate and promoting love and unity have left us hopeful.
In a few days, Airdrie will observe Pride Month. According to Airdrie Pride Society President Kiersten Mohr, this is a time to promote solidarity and inclusivity. The incident at Windsong Heights School highlights the importance of standing shoulder to shoulder with every group in our community, regardless of race, religion or sexual identity.