A little over a month ago, I started a campaign to get Atlanta to commit to permanent rainbow and/or transgender pride–colored crosswalks at the intersection of 10th and Piedmont, a location many consider to be the epicenter of the city’s LGBTQ community.
My petition, which was hosted on Care2, received over 20,000 signatures, including that of Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell, who signed it publicly. It culminated in a huge success: Mayor Kasim Reed announced his commitment to make the rainbow crosswalks permanent June 12, the anniversary of the Pulse nightclub massacre.
But many have questioned why colors painted on asphalt are so important, and if this is really an expedient use of our city’s time, effort, and resources.
To determine the answer, we need only listen to the vast array of LGBTQ stories around us, past and present.
Recently, former New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman Ryan O’Callaghan came out as gay. He told reporters that prior to coming out, he had planned to commit suicide.
Then there’s Leelah Alcorn, a transgender girl from Ohio. Her 2014 death gained international attention after her suicide note revealed her parents had pulled her out of school, revoked her access to social media, and sent her to Christian-based conversion therapy instead of allowing her to transition.
Then there are the stories you may not have heard about: Laura Vermont, an 18-year-old trans woman savagely beaten and killed by Brazilian military police in 2015. Chay Reed, a 28-year-old trans woman shot to death in Miami this year. Jaquarrius Holland (Brown), an 18-year-old trans woman shot in the head in Monroe, La., February 19. Mesha Caldwell, 41, a makeup artist and trans woman found shot multiple times on a road in Mississippi January 4.
Do I really need to go on?
I want to live to see the day when stories like this are no longer part of the LGBTQ experience. But LGBTQ people still suffer under our society’s taboos, the voices that hush them, the hands that push them away from being who they truly are.
It’s not just about some colors on a street. Pride crosswalks are a simple, but affirming recognition of the existence of the LGBTQ community — a community that throughout American history has been largely ignored, disenfranchised, or regarded as taboo.
In some states, it is still illegal to educate young people on the history of LGBTQ civil rights. Most Americans do not fully grasp the history of culturally significant events like the Stonewall riots.
Will rainbow-colored crosswalks fix this? No. But recently the tide has begun to turn. In Washington, D.C., last week, a separate Care2 petition was successful in securing the very first transgender pride crosswalk in the country, albeit temporary.
Gestures like this normalize the LGBTQ community, reaffirming that we are not to be ignored, but we are to be celebrated, seen, heard, and loved.
I hope rainbow crosswalks will open the door to broader conversations about issues facing the LGBTQ community at home in Atlanta and elsewhere.
About a year ago, shortly after the Pulse shootings, I went down to 10th and Piedmont for a candlelight vigil. It is a night I don’t think I will ever forget. Among myself and my friends were our peers, our allies; uniting to show their sympathy for people they had never even met.
That event solidifies why these crosswalks are so important to me. LGBTQ pride is about the similarities we all share. We all want to be recognized, accepted, and loved. These crosswalks are a way to help us remember that our society is only as strong as what we choose to honor.
SARAH ROSE is an Atlanta-based musician and is the LGBTQ issues aAdvocate at Care2, the world’s largest social network for good. Care2 boasts over 40 million members standing toether, starting petitions, and sharing stories that inspire action.