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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 26, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 26
Rainbow crosswalks come to life: public art on Capitol Hill
Section One
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Rainbow crosswalks come to life: public art on Capitol Hill

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

Have you ever experienced something come full circle? I have, the moment I walked across the rainbow colored crosswalk with the man that ultimately made it happen, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray; and we turned to face the news cameras to announce that after years of planning the money had been found to pay for the immediate installation of these colorful crosswalks.

On Tuesday, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray unveiled the first set of rainbow colored crosswalks at 6:30 a.m. on the corner of 10th Ave. & E. Pike St. to what looked like the whole of Seattle's press corp.

Mayor Murray said the new rainbow crosswalks represent the neighborhood as 'a place where we are tolerant and accepting.'

'It says something about this neighborhood and it also says something about Seattle,' Murray continued during the media event. 'This is a city of very diverse neighborhoods throughout with different character.'

In total, the project will cover six intersections of Pike/Pine between 11th Ave and Broadway with rainbow crosswalks as a symbol of LGBTQ progress.

And the neighborhood took notice. News of twelve rainbow colored crosswalks traveled as far as Europe, appeared on CNN, Out Magazine, and many more.

The Early Pitch
In December of 2012, when wedding bells were chiming for thousands of same-sex couples around Washington state, a new group of social justice advocates, Social Outreach Seattle, decided to bring the rainbow colored crosswalk idea to the streets of Capitol Hill.

Long term, this would prove to be easier said than done.

In a January 23, 2013 editorial published in The Seattle Lesbian entitled, 'Rainbow Crosswalk Project Brings Out the Bigots,' I said, 'The general consensus on the website and KIRO's Facebook page, where the story garnered over 500 comments, received over 1,200 'likes' and was shared 419 times was that the LGBT community has the right to marry who we love so now we should 'shut up' and 'go sit down somewhere.'

Somebody named Del O'Connor even chimed in to say, 'How about a rainbow colored gallows for all the homo's to hang out lol.'

Joe Clark, acting as though he'd found his long lost bigoted family member, followed up with, 'I'm with Del, hang'em High!!!!'

Shocking, yes. I mean, can you even believe that somebody would suggest that people be murdered for painting a rainbow along a crosswalk. It was loony.

Over the last three years SOSea's leadership would meet with SDOT officials, community groups, the LGBTQ Commission to then-Mayor McGinn, attend LGBTQ task force meetings, and occasionally meet with SDOT workers familiar with crosswalk art. What we were after, but never could seem to nail down without breaking the bank, was a guarantee that it might still be there in six weeks or months or maybe even years.

That guarantee did not come cheap. At first SOSea was quoted $100,000 for four crosswalks to be painted at the intersection of E. Pike St. and Broadway. You read that right - we said that SDOT officials told us the bill would be $100,000 to paint four crosswalks. Clearly, they had not really seriously quoted us that price, we thought. And after an email exchange that looked something like, 'Are you out of your minds!?' they came back at us with a new, lower, albeit still unacceptable number: $60,000.

The issue, advocates soon found out, was that the construction on the Broadway streetcar was not yet complete and so they would have to paint the thing, just to tear it up and then paint it again. Everyone involved agreed to then wait until the construction was complete, which was sometime in October 2013.

The Second Pitch
When October 2013 had come and gone, so too did the $60,000 price tag. But the problems that would plague the crosswalk plan was location. Over 1,100 Capitol Hill residents voted in a SOSea poll online when asked where a rainbow crosswalk should be laid down. Meanwhile, then-Senator Ed Murray was campaigning for mayor and Rainbow Crosswalks were a far away issue.

SDOT offered a crosswalk at the bottom of the street, if you are standing on Broadway looking east towards Nagle Place, where people enter and exit Cal Anderson Park. This seemed like a good idea because if a member of your group stood at the top of the street and photographed down towards the park, the tourist photo op of being surrounded by a rainbow colored street would be realized. But, we thought, 'Do we really want people standing in the street?' and 'Will this really be the most visible place on Capitol Hill for a rainbow crosswalk?' The answer obviously is 'NO.' So even though the price was estimated somewhere between $10-$15,000 our board decided that there were other issues that were more impacting to raise money for, such as LGBTQ teen homeless resources and housing, marriage equality in all 50 states, Trans* rights and more. We scrapped the fundraising from the community idea and looked for funding elsewhere like corporate sponsorship

However, after winning marriage equality, with a costly campaign, many financial supporters of pro LGBTQ causes were tapped out. Needless to say, so was the community. So we found it difficult to get the rainbow crosswalks sponsored.

New Mayor, New Energy
This writer was appointed to the Mayor's LGBTQ Task Force to help make recommendations to the mayor's office on anti-crime initiatives. I can't say that I was surprised when the SOSea Rainbow Crosswalk Project got mentioned the first day the task force met.

From that point Murray's administration signaled that this was something they were in support of and said the mayor was looking at ways to fund it. I was thrilled because Social Outreach Seattle (SOSea) had gotten this program as far as possible. In the end it was Mayor Murray that stepped up to make rainbow crosswalks in the streets of Capitol Hill a reality.

A few hours before I was asked to meet with the mayor early the next morning to unveil the project, I wrote, 'There will be some who will ask, 'Why is this important.' Let them ask. There will be some that will say, 'Why does everything always have to be about the rainbow flag!' Let them say that. And there will be some who will say, 'This was a waste of money.' Let them think that. Because we know that this visibility is desperately needed right now for the members of the LGBTQ community and Capitol Hill.'

Who Paid the Bill?
According to the Mayor, the crosswalks are being installed at around $72,600 total, which is around $56,000 more than standard white-line crosswalks would cost. However, crews also have given the white-line crosswalks at other intersections along this stretch of Pike/Pine a repaint.

SDOT confirmed that the rainbow colored crosswalks were paid for primarily using Street Use fees, which come from developers using the public right of way.

I'm proud of the work that SOSea did to get us here and I am grateful to Mayor Ed Murray and his administration for putting the finishing touches on this project that had been in the problematic works for years.

In closing, THANK YOU Mayor Murray for your leadership on this issue. You've made a whole hell of a lot of people happy by doing this. Happiness matters. This is going to be a great Pride!

For more information about Social Outreach Seattle (SOSea) please visit our official website www.SocialOutreachSeattle.com, send email to SocialOutreachSeatttle@gmail.com

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PHOTO CREDIT: William Lemke, Office of the Mayor
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