Colourful talk and the rainbow crosswalk
A rainbow intersection could be a good thing in Hamilton if done right
“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.