Special Report: Extremism

A Tale of Two Crosswalks

If the City can't even maintain a rainbow crosswalk from defacement, there's not much hope for rebuilding the badly damaged relationships that currently exist between city leadership and communities threatened by right-wing extremism.

By Cameron Kroetsch
Published September 09, 2019

It's likely that you're aware that there are crosswalks in front of Hamilton City Hall and at Forsyth and Sterling just beside the McMaster University campus representing both rainbow and trans flags.

Even if you are, a quick primer about how they came into existence might be helpful. After Waterloo Mayor Dave Jaworsky tweeted on May 30, 2018 about their crosswalk celebration, Hamilton's Mayor, Fred Eisenberger, tweeted:

He followed through. The day after white supremacists showed up at the Pride celebration at Gage Park on June 17, 2018, the Mayor passed a motion at a Public Works Committee meeting to have rainbow and trans crosswalks installed in front of City Hall.

By the end of July, 2 new crosswalks were installed in front of City Hall across Main Street West and bridging the parking entrance off of Summers Lane. For what it's worth, this is what the crosswalks looked like when the flags were first painted (photos from early August 2018):

New rainbow crosswalk on Main Street West at Summer's Lane (Image Credit: Cameron Kroetsch)
New rainbow crosswalk on Main Street West at Summer's Lane (Image Credit: Cameron Kroetsch)

New trans crosswalk on Summer's Lane at Main Street West (Image Credit: Cameron Kroetsch)
New trans crosswalk on Summer's Lane at Main Street West (Image Credit: Cameron Kroetsch)

Both crosswalks at Main Street West and Summer's Lane (Image Credit: Cameron Kroetsch)
Both crosswalks at Main Street West and Summer's Lane (Image Credit: Cameron Kroetsch)

But just a couple of days after these photos were taken, people were pointing out black marks that had appeared on the rainbow crosswalk, asking why they were there, and questioning if the marks were made intentionally.

Skid mark on the rainbow crosswalk (Image Credit: Ronin)
Skid mark on the rainbow crosswalk (Image Credit: Ronin)

Community activists, the media, and others kept asking these questions throughout the months of August and September, some providing compelling evidence that there was no way that the black marks could have gotten there by coincidence and therefore must have been deliberate.

On October 19, 2018, just 3 days before the final day of voting in the municipal election, the Mayor announced that there was a sponsor for the crosswalk and that they had given $10,000 over 5 years to maintain the crosswalk.

Mayor Fred Eisenberger poses on the rainbow crosswalk (Image Credit: Fred Eisenberger)
Mayor Fred Eisenberger poses on the rainbow crosswalk (Image Credit: Fred Eisenberger)

Where are We Today?

The short answer is: nowhere good. After months of violence and gaslighting directed at 2SLGBQTIA+ communities in Hamilton, the rainbow crosswalk in front of City Hall stands as a stark and shameful emblem of civic apathy.

The reason I'm writing this article now is at the urging and with the full support and encouragement of another concerned member of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. Vilma Rossi contacted me a few days back to express her concern over the defaced rainbow flag.

We met up this past Saturday morning in the forecourt of City Hall to take photos, to talk about the impact of the scarred flag, and to contemplate how the lack of immediate action to repair the damage might be interpreted - especially in the face of the ongoing white supremacist presence in front of City Hall.

It's obvious from current photos that the rainbow crosswalk is faded, pockmarked, and rubber screeched. A dim, faded, reminder of a campaign promise that many read as a pledge to stand up for inclusion in Hamilton.

If anything, it stands out as the physical manifestation of the City's approach to what's happened this summer and a constant reminder of the hate centred on marginalized communities in this city. It's painful to look at and, for me, a visceral embodiment of what it means to be queer in Hamilton.

Rainbow crosswalk faded and covered in skid marks (Image Credit: Cameron Kroetsch)
Rainbow crosswalk faded and covered in skid marks (Image Credit: Cameron Kroetsch)

Detail of rainbow crosswalk faded and covered in skid marks (Image Credit: Cameron Kroetsch)
Detail of rainbow crosswalk faded and covered in skid marks (Image Credit: Cameron Kroetsch)

More detail of rainbow crosswalk faded and covered in skid marks (Image Credit: Cameron Kroetsch)
More detail of rainbow crosswalk faded and covered in skid marks (Image Credit: Cameron Kroetsch)

The Other Crosswalk

Just metres away, two other crosswalks stand in stark contrast to their neglected neighbour and make it quite clear that some of the damage to the rainbow flag has been done deliberately.

Trans crosswalk on Summer's Lane not skidded (Image Credit: Vilma Rossi)
Trans crosswalk on Summer's Lane not skidded (Image Credit: Vilma Rossi)

Zebra crosswalk on Main Street West not skidded (Image Credit: Vilma Rossi)
Zebra crosswalk on Main Street West not skidded (Image Credit: Vilma Rossi)

While it's perhaps easy to explain away the Summers Lane trans crosswalk because it's not subjected to a high enough volume of traffic, the same cannot be said for the zebra (white ladder lines) crosswalk just west of the rainbow crosswalk on the other side of the intersection.

The comparison is stark. While the rainbow is riddled with rubber tire marks, the ladder is virtually unblemished (yes, there is a lone skid mark).

Zebra crosswalk on Main Street not skidded (Image Credit: Cameron Kroetsch)
Zebra crosswalk on Main Street not skidded (Image Credit: Cameron Kroetsch)

It's even more obvious when you understand the location of the white laddered crosswalk in comparison to its rainbow neighbour. The ladder is literally just after the stop line at the light. That means if cars come to a skidding halt, they're going to do that skid right onto the ladder, not onto the rainbow, which is physically situated under the light. Since Main Street is one way, there's no competing traffic to explain this away.

Neglected, abused rainbow crosswalk (Image Credit: Cameron Kroetsch)
Neglected, abused rainbow crosswalk (Image Credit: Cameron Kroetsch)

Are We Looking at a Hate Crime?

Certainly both Vilma and I think so. Not only are the rubber marks intentional but so is the neglect. Leaving this crosswalk in such disrepair sends a clear message to the 2SLGBTQIA+ community that we're not a priority and that equity, diversity, and inclusion are not a central part of the City's mandate.

Much worse, this is right where members of known white supremacist groups stand every week shouting at us, calling us names, and doing everything they can to deny our existence. This neglect emboldens their hatred and gives rise to its prevalence.

If it isn't already obvious, there's a lot more to unpack here.

But the takeaway for me is pretty simple: if the City is going to paint it and say that it matters, then it has to take care of it and make sure that it sends a message of support and inclusion. It's the least this City can do.

It's there now, it's become a symbol, and symbols are important.

It's obvious that the importance of the symbol is not lost on those who take deliberate action to deface the crosswalk in order to demonstrate their contempt for 2SLGBTQIA+ communities.

Letting the rainbow flag remain faded, pockmarked and vandalized says more about the City and its ability to understand what's right in front of it than it ever will about its support for our community. If it can't get this right, there's not much hope for rebuilding the badly damaged relationships that currently exist no matter how many community dialogues are set up because we "have to start somewhere".

Marginalized communities have never stopped doing this work so the suggestion that we "start" completely misses the point.

As I'll continue to say, there's lots of low-hanging fruit for the City to choose from when trying to come up with tangible concrete actions and decades of feedback from marginalized communities to rely on. Now is always the time to act.

Cameron Kroetsch moved to Hamilton in 2014. He's a labour relations professional, sometimes writer, and a passionate non-profit sector volunteer who cares about democracy in government and community advocacy. He lives in Ward 2 with his partner Derek.

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