I’ll begin by admitting that my assertion that rainbow crosswalks in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood could be attracting tourists is based on limited anecdotal evidence.
This is the story. Last Saturday, I was walking down Broadway, the main thoroughfare in Capitol Hill. I stopped at a crosswalk, which happened to be one in 11 in the neighborhood painted with rainbow colors, and waited for the light to change. Also waiting for the crosswalk was a group of about six women, but when the little man in the crosswalk sign lit up, they didn’t cross.
Instead, one of the women walked a few steps into the intersection and then turned around to face the remaining members of her group. They immediately began taking her photo.
I didn’t really think much of it. I crossed the street and ducked into the theater where I was purchasing a movie ticket for a showing later that evening. This took just a couple minutes. I came back out to return home and realized the women were still out there. They were still taking photos and had been taking turns taking photos that whole time. Eventually, once they finished the individual shots, they started splitting off and taking photos in pairs.
I remember when I was a kid my grandpa came to visit my family in Tacoma. He was from Georgia. During his visit he kept talking about how much he loved all the evergreen trees. At that point I had lived my whole life in Washington. I never thought at all about evergreen trees. It didn’t really occur to me that there were other places you could live where they had different trees. This experience with the rainbow crosswalks felt kind of like that.
I didn’t think to talk to these women about why they were doing what they were doing, but my guess is they were tourists. Sure, there’s a chance they were just a group of people that inexplicably go bananas over rainbows, but I’m going to assume for a second these women were from out of town. Sometimes it takes an outsider to remind you of the importance of something right under your nose, or in this case, under your feet.
Back when these crosswalks were originally unveiled in the summer of 2015, there was some controversy over whether taxpayer money was spent on the $66,000 project. Even my conservative colleague Jason Rantz determined the answer was not really.
But even if rainbow paint costs were nominally more than the boring white paint they were going to use otherwise (and to be clear, the crosswalks were scheduled for maintenance, the city was going to spend money anyway), I still believe it’s hard to argue gestures like these are completely empty.
I think they’re a morale booster. I hope they make people in the LGBTQ community feel welcome. I don’t think there’s a huge population of explicitly bigoted people in Seattle, but I like the idea that if they do show up the crosswalks are a signal that we’re not interested in their opinions.
Also, at least from what I can tell, tourists think they’re neat.
Of course, if we’re going to invest serious money into an LGBTQ issue, it should be remedying the fact that LGBTQ youth consider suicide three times the rate of their heterosexual peers.
I’m just tossing out the argument that symbolic gestures aren’t without value, but if we want to continue to set our region apart, it’s probably time to find a new gesture.