Colour­ful talk and the rain­bow cross­walk

A rain­bow in­ter­sec­tion could be a good thing in Hamil­ton if done right

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - Deirdre Pike is a free­lance colum­nist for the Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor. Her sto­ry­telling dur­ing LGBTQ+ Pos­i­tive Space train­ing, and any­where else she gets a chance, is in­spired by the late, great Stu­art McLean. So long for now. @deirdrepike

“You peo­ple stole our rain­bow,” ex­claimed the par­tic­i­pant at an LGBTQ+ Pos­i­tive Space Train­ing ses­sion a few years back now.

For­get the “you peo­ple.” I was in­ter­ested in how I, as part of the “you peo­ple” group, had man­aged to make off with the rain­bow.

“I’m sure I saw one in the sky just two nights ago,” I replied. Was it vis­i­ble only to the naked eyes of queer and trans peo­ple?

She went on, quite ex­as­per­at­edly, to ex­plain how her son had come home one day with a new friend who no­ticed her rain­bow sun catcher hang­ing in the living room win­dow. Mak­ing what sounds like an in­no­cent as­sump­tion, he asked, “Are you a les­bian?”

She was so in­sulted she took that rain­bow sym­bol down so it would never catch the sun again. “You peo­ple stole our rain­bow!”

I live in hope that most non­les­bian peo­ple if asked that ques­tion would sim­ply an­swer, “No, but I love rain­bows — and les­bians!”

On June 25, 1978, just months be­fore Har­vey Milk, San Fran­cisco’s first openly gay city coun­cil­lor was as­sas­si­nated, the rain­bow flag flew as a sym­bol for the LGBTQ+ com­mu­nity over that city’s Gay Free­dom Day Pa­rade.

Gil­bert Baker had been asked by Milk to cre­ate flags for the pa­rade be­cause he knew how to sew on the cheap. As a drag queen, he had cre­ated all his own clothes.

Baker says the choice of the rain­bow was ob­vi­ous. “We needed some­thing that ex­pressed us. The rain­bow re­ally fits that, in terms of we’re all the colours, and all the gen­ders and all the races.”

While all of that is true, it is also true the rain­bow con­tin­ues to in­spire awe from the naked eyes of all who have gazed upon one in the clear­ing sky after the rain has gone.

It is also true other or­ga­ni­za­tions and po­lit­i­cal move­ments that are not LGBTQ+ iden­ti­fied use the rain­bow as a logo. And it is also true the rain­bow holds huge spir­i­tual sig­nif­i­cance for be­liev­ers across the re­li­gious spec­trum.

So with pretty much ev­ery­one feel­ing deeply con­nected to the rain­bow, in­clud­ing each per­son on earth who has been moved by the deep mes­sages and mu­sic in The Wizard of Oz, it should come as no sur­prise the idea of paint­ing a rain­bow in­ter­sec­tion in down­town Hamil­ton turned into a colour­ful con­ver­sa­tion last week.

When the CBC re­porter called to ask my re­ac­tion to said idea I was ini­tially ex­cited. I had just been to London last week where they have a rain­bow in­ter­sec­tion at the gates of Vic­to­ria Park. That’s where Pride London Fes­ti­val is held each year and across the other side of the in­ter­sec­tion is London City Hall.

Just a scant 20 or so years ago, the may­ors of both London and Hamil­ton were fined for re­fus­ing to raise the rain­bow flag to mark their cities’ Pride fes­tiv­i­ties. To see that ma­jor cross­walk in London so close to the mu­nic­i­pal seat of power re­minds peo­ple who see it of a new com­mit­ment to in­clu­sion and safety.

I think the same could be true here in Hamil­ton and that’s why I was en­thu­si­as­tic when I first heard about it. Then I learned the idea had come from a re­ally well-in­ten­tioned place but the tim­ing and lo­ca­tion was prob­lem­atic.

When the lead­er­ship of the In­ter­na­tional Vil­lage Busi­ness Im­prove­ment Area As­so­ci­a­tion first thought of paint­ing the in­ter­sec­tion at King Wil­liam and Fer­gu­son in rain­bow stripes, the queerowned and op­er­ated Steel Lounge was open on the north­west cor­ner and over the course of a year had fast be­come a gath­er­ing place for LGBTQ+ peo­ple, their friends and al­lies.

By the time the grant ar­rived from the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment last week to start the paint­ing, The Steel Lounge was gone due to eco­nomics and is now a sad re­minder of an­other time that same build­ing stood empty after a ho­mo­pho­bic hate crime caused the owner to lock the doors.

A rain­bow in­ter­sec­tion could be a good thing in Hamil­ton but it needs to be in­formed by LGBTQ+ voices to de­ter­mine the best spot to show that we’re a city com­mit­ted to the in­clu­sion of queer and trans peo­ple but we have a lot of in­ter­sec­tions to cross yet.

DEIRDRE PIKE

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