The sun finally came out again, but not all is sunny in Austin.
A proposal to paint rainbow crosswalks at the intersection of Bettie Naylor Street (4th Street) and Colorado Street hit a snag this week. The City Council approved the initial proposal back in September. However, the public hearing period rallied a small, but vocal faction of business owners and residents against the installation. As a result, the Austin Arts Commission voted 4-3 against the proposal. The City Council will take a final vote on the issue at an undetermined time in the future, but without the Arts Commission’s endorsement, the outcome is looking more white and asphalt than the united colors of pride.
Why Rainbow Crosswalks?
If you ask me, I say, why not? I love color! I wish all crosswalks were painted in pretty colors. It might keep more pedestrians from being mowed down by inattentive drivers. However, the impetus behind this particular idea is to honor a section of downtown Austin associated with LGBTQ culture. After all, Oil Can Harry’s (NSFW link), Austin’s oldest, and arguably, most famous gay bar, has been on that block since the 80’s.
Today, the stretch of Bettie Naylor Street between Colorado and Lavaca is home to a thriving bar and restaurant scene. It is the thumping heart of the Warehouse District. Some, but not all, of the businesses along that block continue to cater to the LGBTQ crowd. Proponents of the rainbow crosswalks see the project as a lovely piece of public art to honor the role of LGBTQ businesses in the revitalization of the area, as well as a beacon of inclusivity and integration.
Oh Hail No!
Not all folks are on board with this idea, though. Some are concerned that the rainbow crosswalks would hurt their bottom line by causing confusion about the nature of their non-LGBTQ businesses. Others object on the grounds that rainbow crosswalks may make non-LGBTQ folks feel excluded, or that Austin doesn’t need them because our city is enlightened and inclusive. Some point out that the LGBTQ community already has a monument, due to the renaming of that stretch of 4th street to honor lesbian civil rights activist, Bettie Naylor.
A few misinformed naysayers want the “tax money” spent on other projects, though in reality the crosswalks would be privately funded and maintained. Some wonder about the safety of painting colors other than white on the crosswalks, and a few worry that allowing rainbow crosswalks will pave the way for other special interest groups to lobby for their own colored crosswalks.
Rainbows Ain’t Just Whistlin’ YMCA
Personally, I find the arguments against the rainbow crosswalks to be weak and worthy of some serious side-eye, with nostril-flare added for emphasis. I get it, some of y’all are unsure about the whole thing. It’s true that the rainbow has become the most visible symbol of the LGBTQ rights movement in recent years. But rainbows have been symbolic in many cultures for many different reasons.
Shunning rainbows because of the current popular association is to deny the rich history and beauty of this universal symbol. Who’s to say that someone walking across a rainbow crosswalk would automatically think of LGBTQ rights? Lots of folks may be inclined to think of this, or hum along to this. And let’s not forget about this!
In a world fraught with troubles, the fight over rainbow crosswalks is much ado about nothing. C’mon, y’all, it’s just some paint on the street!