Just over one month ago, James Brechney went into the alley behind his Sydney flat and drew a rainbow on the street with two of his friends. He took pictures of his rainbow and uploaded them to his social media pages. Within days, you could find the very same rainbows across roads in Kenya, France, the Netherlands, Argentina and the USA. Variety stores throughout Sydney suffered a ‘Chalk Famine’ for a number of days; communities across Australia and the world have since united in the sanctity of these ‘DIY’ rainbows, mounting petitions against local governments when groundsmen would arrive with pressure washers in an attempt to remove them.
The Facebook page for the movement has over 21,000 followers. One such follower, Nathan McCartney posted that “this page has become my daily source of happy news at a time when so much seems wrong with the world”. Others commented that they “have never seen a page that is as positive or as filled with love” and that the DIY Rainbow movement community is “incredibly uplifting”. This all came about because just days before the movement exploded, a bright rainbow painted across a major crossing on Oxford St in Sydney was removed by State government officials.
So what is it about these rainbow crossings that have people around the world chalking?
The ‘original’ rainbow, if you will, was painted across Oxford St at Taylor Square in Sydney’s CBD in late February to coincide with the annual Sydney Mardi Gras festival, celebrating the richness of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Intersex Queer (LGTBIQ) community in the area of Darlinghurst.
The crossing was met with some hostility, with the council allocating $110,000 of taxpayers’ money to install the public artwork for a trial period of one month. With such funds, some critics argue, could “get you two permanent roundabouts in the western suburbs, [or a] permanent public toilet block in Hunters Hill”.
However, public support for the crossing as a permanent artwork flourished as the festival continued and became a symbol of the diversity and inclusivity that Sydney enjoys. More than 15,000 online signatures were collected in a petition before the removal of the crossing, with the Independent Member for Sydney, Alex Greenwich recognising it as celebration of the local LGBTIQ community’s history and a major tourist attraction.
“[It] symbolises a beacon of hope for the LGBTIQ community,” Rami Mandow is founder and chairman of The Community Brave Foundation, a 24/7 digital communication platform tackling youth bullying, particularly LGBTIQ bullying, homophobia, transphobia and youth suicide.
“The significance that the Rainbow Crossing had to the community, both LGBTIQ and straight identifying, is that it allowed people to really embrace a sense of togetherness. So many pioneers and brave people who have fought against discrimination see Oxford St as the centre of their foundation. We have history here.”
The crossing created a flurry of support and PR across the world. Local government members including Alex Greenwich and Lord Mayor Clover Moore were seen fighting for its survival, recognising the crossing as a symbol of changing times and perspectives. However, when the allotted month finished and the sparkle of the Mardi Gras festival faded, it came time for the government to explore its permanency.
On April 10th, NSW Roads Minister Duncan Gay and NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell oversaw the removal of the crossing at a cost of $30,000 on the basis of safety concerns for the public. These suspected ‘safety concerns’ have raised a great deal of debate among the community even after its removal, as many believe that they were minor and could have been dealt with in many cost-effective ways.
“Personally, if I was in Government, I would have listened to the request of over 15,700 people who requested the crossing remain,” Mandow told 5Why. “There was no risk of safety being jeopardised with a crossing that could not be mitigated.”
Bitzios Consulting, in their audit of the trial, found that a number of people had been ‘skylarking’ and taking their time crossing the road, stopping for pictures and even sitting or lying down on the road during the crossing period. The consulting firm and members of local government have since suggested measures such as night patrolling, or perhaps even the construction of a ‘photo-booth’ style set-up where officials can take tourists’ pictures with the crossing for a small fee during safe periods.
“These options are affordable, add value to the economy with tourism and business stimulation and ensured that the LGBTIQ community could maintain a symbol to represent them,” Mandow told 5Why. All of these solutions were seen to cost less – both financially and socially – than the crossing’s removal, yet its removal went ahead much to the dismay of many onlookers.
Mandow speaks of his experience watching the crossing’s removal.
“I saw how many people it really hurt. The Rainbow Crossing meant a lot to so many people, including myself… [It’s] a beautiful public piece of art that not only recognises the struggles and tribulations of past and present LGBTIQ people, but also an effective economic and tourism magnet which helps revitalise the district.”
Mandow expresses his support for the campaign: “From Hawaii to Hawthorne. From Ballarat to Belgium. From Surry Hills to St. Louis – DIYRainbowCrossings have been popping up everywhere! All have a message – ‘Sydney, we stand with you’.”
Rami Mandow is the founder and chairman of The Community Brave Foundation. The Community Brave Foundation is a 24/7 digital communication platform for youth who are being bullied and need someone to speak to online. The foundation has released a number of videos as part of their phase one program including submissions made by Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Finance Minister Penny Wong, Education Minister Peter Garrett, Leader of the Greens Christine Milne, Several Australian celebrities and The Sydney Swans. Phase two of their program is the rollout of their adult training program – helping educate teachers, counsellors, parents in how to deal with all forms of LGBTIQ bullying.