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More rainbow crosswalks coming; this time to fight crime

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray plans to add more rainbow crosswalks to Capitol Hill. (SDOT)

With an eye towards addressing both safety concerns and changing demographics of the Capitol Hill neighborhood, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray will add more rainbow crosswalks.

Additional rainbow crosswalks are slated for the area around the new Capitol Hill light rail station. This is one of many moves the Mayor is making in the coming weeks.

“Seattle has long been a place where everyone can find an accepting and tolerant home,” Murray said. “We celebrate our history of advancing equity for the LGBTQ community and we will support efforts to make Seattle even more inclusive. Thank you to the task force for identifying these actions to reduce the violent attacks and verbal harassment experienced by LGBTQ people.”

Related: Death of the ‘gayborhood’ is a sign of progress

The last time this happened, there was some outcry from critics arguing this is both a waste of taxpayer money and a violation of traffic laws. As I detailed here, both of those claims are incorrect. Fees already paid by developers to correct damage done to sidewalks funds this project (you could argue that the fee gets passed on but it’s demonstrably incorrect to call this a direct tax to residents) and the design is well within what is permitted by the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. Nevertheless, you can expect the same outrage this time around.

What is different about these crosswalks, though, is this larger emphasis on it being a tool to prevent anti-gay hate crimes.

“We do know that if you change the physical environment you change crime. So this is a way to address that in part,” the mayor told KIRO TV.

Monisha Harrell, co-chair the mayor’s LGBTQ safety task force, explained the crosswalks send the message that “[t]his is an accepting area, this is an area of diversity, it’s an area of safety.”

Related: Do rainbow crosswalks break the law? Did they cost tax payers $66,000?

Though I’m an obvious supporter of the crosswalks, I’m not entirely sure I believe this will do anything to curb violence. Monsters who commit anti-gay hate crimes do so because of irrational fear; simply expanding the neighborhood’s rainbow crosswalks could simply irritate them further. This is not a reason not to install these crowsswalks. We should never give hateful people the power to stop progress. But it should serve as a warning that if safety is your concern, please don’t assume these crosswalks will mean you’re safe.

My sense is that these crosswalks are more about trying to preserve the Capitol Hill neighborhood as a “gayborhood,” at a time when the neighborhood is dramatically shifting to more inclusive of all sexual orientations and gender identities. But it’s a losing battle, and I’m fine with that because “gayborhoods” are important primarily when you feel like it’s the only neighborhood you could live in if you’re in the LGBT community. That there is no longer a need for that gayborhood is a sign of progress and acceptance.

What do you think? Leave your comments below.

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