Last updated: 20 November 2013
On 10 April 2013, the much-loved, and also ‘controversial’ to some, Oxford Street rainbow crossing was destroyed by road-workers, in the middle of the night, on the order of the NSW State Government, arguing the destruction was necessary because of ‘safety concerns’. So what’s the full story?
How the rainbow crossing was born
The rainbow crossing was proposed by Clover Moore, the popular Lord Mayor of the City of Sydney, modelled on a similar initiative in West Hollywood, as a celebration of the local LGBTI community, and to be put in place in time for the 35th anniversary Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras.
On 14 December 2012, Clover Moore announced that the Council of the City of Sydney had unanimously endorsed her proposal for the rainbow crossing.
The project was of course subject to the approval of the Roads and Maritime Services. An approval was granted, although it came with onerous strings attached, including a one month limit on the life of the rainbow crossing, which significantly increased the associated costs. Presumably the Minister, ironically named Mr Gay, may have quietly hoped that those conditions were onerous enough to make the crossing never happen?
Not so, because consequently the matter was put to another vote by the Council of the City of Sydney. This time the vote was not unanimous. Some members of the Council voted against the proposal, including a prominent lesbian counsellor, later arguing that in light of the temporary nature of the approval the project has become too costly.
Although the official approval noted the rainbow crossing was to be removed after a month, it was always hoped once it was in place the community would embrace it, and the NSW State Government would then allow it to be kept permanently, just as West Hollywood did, without the dire and deadly consequences predicted for Sydney’s crossing by Mr Gay.
After the February Council vote, the rainbow crossing was put in place just in time for Mardi Gras.
The reaction was quite predictable.
The LGBTI community embraced this symbol of acceptance, equality and love with gusto and the rainbow crossing has immediately became an iconic and much-loved landmark. In fact a petition to the Minister was almost immediately born to show how much community support existed for retaining the rainbow crossing.
Some commentators predictably saw it as a threat to the foundations of our society (applying their stock-standard ‘a rainbow crossing today, same-sex marriage tomorrow and surely compulsory bestiality next week’ logic), one calling it an example of the ‘gay mafias’ being exposed as ‘world-class rule benders’. Others spiralled into the usual ugly homophobic rage, expressed by comments such as ‘it’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve’, it’s ‘ungodly’, ‘unnatural’, etc.
And if you are wondering, quietly our loudly, whether it is absolutely necessary to have such an overtly visual and symbolic gesture of acceptance, equality and love towards those of us who are born with a non-heterosexual orientation, we invite you to peruse the comments to that article so you can truly appreciate the level and severity of intolerance and ill-will still directed at the LGBTI community by so many from the larger community.
Others decided to hide their homophobia, or ignorance of economic realities, behind the ‘waste of taxpayers’ money’ tactic. If you fall into that camp, may I remind you LGBTI also pay rates and taxes, and Mardi Gras alone is estimated to generate $30 million revenue for the State each year.
Some opined they could have painted a rainbow on the crossing for just a few thousand, if not few hundred, dollars, strangely not realising (or ignoring) the obvious that paint used on a road needs to be quite unique, because it has to be hard-wearing to withstand busy traffic, and non-slip to ensure not just the safety of pedestrians, but also cyclist and motorcyclists.
The tug of war over ‘safety’
In support of retaining the rainbow crossing, the Council of the City of Sydney commissioned an independent safety audit. The audit was generally supportive of retaining the crossing, but did identify certain ‘behavioural issues’ by pedestrians that may have represented a safety issue and offered a number of solutions for addressing them.
Unfortunately, the Minister appears to have read only that portion of the audit which detailed the ‘behavioural issues’ posing a potential risk and based his decision to deny permanency for the rainbow crossing solely on those concerns, ignoring all of the suggested solutions by the auditor, and the rest of the audit report generally.
It must also be noted that, prior to these events, the crossing was never a ‘zebra’ crossing but just two parallel lines across the road as Taylor Square is equipped with traffic lights for traffic control, and the crossing itself, at best, is a ‘secondary’ safety device.
Ironically, the Assistant Police Commissioner Mark Murdoch made the following comment on the rainbow crossing:
It’s very, very visible, it looks great, and in terms of pedestrian safety it’s a great innovation.
Further, immeasurable, irony is offered by the fact that the rainbow crossing was destroyed over ‘safety’ concerns at a time when the NSW Government intends to allow hunting in national parks, despite serious concerns about the safety of national parks staff and the public. In fact it appears that what’s proposed by the NSW Government is becoming more and more dangerous as the approval process for hunting moves forward. Consequently, while I would love to believe our Government’s concern over the ‘horrendous dangers’ the rainbow crossing represented to all of us, unfortunately, they might as well written ‘hypocrisy’ in the sky over this decision.
The method of removal the Minister chose, unannounced, without final consultation with the City Of Sydney, and as an ’emergency’ matter in the darkness of the night is also a grave illustration of the mindset behind the decision, further illuminated by comments from Mr Gay:
… frankly less chance of (Independent MP) Alex Greenwich and his mates harassing the staff as they go about their work.
It would have been a lovely, symbolic gesture of solidarity if the road-workers refused their assignment and used the tar wasted on covering up the rainbow crossing for fixing the potholes of Oxford Street instead.
In light of the above Mr Gay is fooling no one. The appalling rainbow crossing exercise was a play in political absurdity, coloured by hypocrisy from beginning to end. It may not have been outright homophobia from the Government itself, but at a minimum it was a sad exercise in pandering to the homophobic elements of society.
However, I’m somewhat encouraged by the general public’s reaction in a poll in The Sydney Morning Herald, the paper conducted the day after the rainbow crossing was destroyed:
The Clover factor?
Could the rainbow crossing have been partially doomed by its champion and the NSW Government’s simmering distaste for her? The disdain for Clover Moore from certain political circles, and automatically opposing just about anything she proposes, is not a big secret. The NSW Government went as far as literally legislating her out of Parliament despite her immense popularity with her electorate, which she has served for 24 years, with a legislation that was commonly referred to as the ‘get Clover bill’.
However, to the great chagrin of the NSW Government, after all the political machinations to get rid off Clover Moore, and despite their intense campaigning, the consequent by-election in the seat of Bligh has returned another independent candidate (publicly anointed and supported by Clover Moore), Alex Greenwich, with a significantly increased margin, sending a clear message to the powers that be in Macquarie Street. It is also quite telling of the Government’s mindset on Clover that the Minister, when he was being interviewed over the destruction of the rainbow crossing, just referred to her as ‘this woman’ (and if you have any doubts, yes his tone was dripping with disdain).
In the end, as Clover Moore herself put it, the manner in which the Government chose to remove the rainbow crossing:
… was an unwarranted aggressive act against the Sydney community.
Postscript: The Rainbow Rebellion
If you thought that was the end of that story, you would be wrong. As it turns out, rainbows are hard to knock down … just like the LGBTI community.
A colourful Rainbow Rebellion had broken out in Sydney, across the country (and the world), in response to the destruction of Sydney’s rainbow crossing!
The news of the DIY rainbows made its way around the world and even Al Jazeera covered it! Unfortunately, at least one local coverage, in The Daily Telegraph, attracted some predictably hateful responses. Thankfully other local coverage found a more civilised and human tone.
It filled my heart with joy that the great unwashed (gay, straight and in-between) revolted and organised on Facebook, and other social media platforms, and chalked, crayoned and painted DIY rainbow crossings all over the place in playful protest.
Without doubt this spontaneous, joyful and irreverent response from the community to a bureaucratic and highly suspect political decision was conveniently ignored or even ridiculed on Macquarie Street. But at the end of the day governments come and go, but the LGBTI community will always be here, under the rainbow.
Rainbow crossing(s) forever … or at least until it rains … even outside Minister Duncan Gay’s office!
Unfortunately, the NSW Government came up with an unexpected but politically genius solution to the DIY rainbows: it amended graffiti laws to make non-permanent markings, such as chalk drawings, an offence, thus effectively criminalising chalk DIY rainbows in NSW.