Rainbow crosswalks latest way cities celebrate Pride

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday June 21, 2023
Share this Post:
Workers in the Marin County town of Fairfax in May put the finishing touches on a Progress Pride rainbow crosswalk between the Parkade and My Thai restaurant to celebrate LGBTQ+ Pride. Photo: Courtesy Town of Fairfax
Workers in the Marin County town of Fairfax in May put the finishing touches on a Progress Pride rainbow crosswalk between the Parkade and My Thai restaurant to celebrate LGBTQ+ Pride. Photo: Courtesy Town of Fairfax

For years now practically every city in the Bay Area has issued a proclamation to declare June as Pride Month. And many cities and towns in the nine-county region fly some version of the Pride flag during June.

Now a growing number are installing a permanent marker of their embrace of the LGBTQ community via rainbow crosswalks. This month Sausalito joined the list, a few weeks after the town of Fairfax unveiled its rainbow crosswalk at the end of May.

"I think it is a beautiful, and frankly easy, way to signal that your community welcomes everybody," said gay Sausalito City Councilmember Janelle Kellman, who will be welcoming attendees to the city's inaugural Pride weekend events next week.

Sausalito City Council members and other officials took part in the ribbon cutting for three crosswalks at the Broadway intersection earlier this month. Photo: City of Sausalito  

When Kellman served as the Marin County city's ceremonial mayor last year, one of her priorities was to see that the bayside community host its first official Pride events. But the COVID pandemic derailed it from doing so in 2022.

Undeterred, Kellman and the city's Pride committee sought to see that it happen this June. Various events have been taking place all month, such as the opening of a Pride-themed show at the Sausalito Center for the Arts, which will host a kickoff to the Pride weekend festivities next Thursday evening.

Friday, June 30, the city's annual Jazz and Blues by the Bay summer concert series will host a special Pride night from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in Gabrielson Park. Saturday, July 1, will bring a drag-themed fundraiser for both the Pride committee and The Spahr Center, Marin County's LGBTQ community center.

In planning for the Pride events, the idea of installing a rainbow crosswalk came up in the conversations, Kellman told the Bay Area Reporter a few days after cutting the ribbon for the crosswalks on June 13. Three were installed at the Bridgeway and Bay Street intersection in front of the Italian restaurant Poggio Trattoria, whose outdoor seating is popular with dog owners.

"There is no historic gay something there. It is one of the most well-trafficked areas in town," noted Kellman.

Made with a high-quality thermoplastic, the crosswalks should last up to five years before needing to be repaired or replaced. Seeing them be officially unveiled, with all five councilmembers in attendance, "felt amazing," said Kellman.

"We talk about diversity in our community and this is truly an example of that," she noted.

Other cities
Nearby in the town of Fairfax, a crosswalk inspired by the Progress Pride flag, which in addition to the rainbow colors includes black and brown stripes to represent people of color and the pink, white, and blue colors of the transgender flag, was installed on Broadway spanning from in front of the My Thai restaurant across the street to the Parkade parking lot.

"If we can have fun in a way that doesn't cost us a lot of money or staff time, it's worth doing, so I appreciate that," gay Fairfax City Councilmember Lisel Blash told the Marin Independent Journal after the governing body approved the crosswalk in April.

The LGBTQ resort town of Guerneville in western Sonoma County is likely to get a number of rainbow crosswalks this year. Supervisor Lynda Hopkins is working with resident Anamaría Morales, both longtime supporters of the LGBTQ community, to install a series of them throughout the town along the Russian River.

The first ones could be installed this summer at several intersections on roads overseen by the county. Hopkins' office is also in contact with Caltrans about installing rainbow crosswalks at intersections along Main Street in Guerneville, which is also known as River Road and State Route 116, a highway overseen by the state agency.

"It is part of the overall umbrella of really trying to invest in downtown Guerneville and make sure the downtown showcases the beautiful vibrancy of the community," said Hopkins, who along with her county board colleagues approved last week a major sidewalk improvement project for the town's Main Street.

As for adding rainbow crosswalks, Hopkins told the B.A.R. "it is something I have heard kicked around town for a very long time."

The idea gained steam this spring after someone tagged several rainbow murals in Guerneville with homophobic slurs, one of which was painted by elementary school students. Another tag appeared on a concrete street barrier near Morales' home that she had painted a rainbow mural on as well as the rainbow gate she also painted in front of her house.

Morales called Hopkins that day and pitched her the idea of more rainbow murals and crosswalks in town. In a June 1 post on her Facebook page, Hopkins disclosed that at least three rainbow crosswalks were in the works.

"We need to do more rainbows and can't let this hate speech stand," she told the B.A.R. last week. "If people go after our rainbows, we are just going to come back with more and bigger in time."

During the pandemic Morales organized her neighbors in Healdsburg where she used to live to transform a fence covered with graffiti into a rainbow art installation. It was what sparked her proposal to do a similar public art project in Guerneville, having moved to town last August, via rainbow crosswalks.

"Rather than me being a one-woman show by painting the rainbow, we can respond with numbers and more kindness," said Morales, whose grandmother and great-grandmother grew up in the town.

Once given approval by the county, she wants to invite community members to help paint the rainbow crosswalks on the selected side streets as a show of support and response to the homophobic tagging, which also appeared this spring on LGBTQ-supportive signs on several businesses in town.

"I thought, yeah, rainbows bring joy and happiness. It is perfect," said Morales, who owns College Confectionista, a cheesecake business she started in high school to pay her way through UC Berkeley.

According to LGBTQ advocates the B.A.R. contacted, it is believed that rainbow crosswalks can now be found in five of the nine counties that make up the Bay Area. Contra Costa, San Mateo, and Solano counties could join the list by Pride Month in 2024, leaving Napa County the lone holdout.

Last October, Petaluma in Sonoma County unveiled a Progress Pride flag crosswalk in its downtown. The nonprofit Amor Para Todos used private funds to paint it on Kentucky Street between Western Avenue and Washington Street.

In San Francisco, which is a city and a county, rainbow crosswalks were added to all four sides of the 18th and Castro streets intersection in 2014. They provided a colorful backdrop last September when Queen Máxima of the Netherlands visited the historic LGBTQ neighborhood, photos of which were published around the world.

As the B.A.R. noted in a 2013 story about seeing the Castro receive its own rainbow crosswalk, the streetscape features were beginning to pop up at that time in LGBTQ neighborhoods around the world, from Sydney, Australia and Vancouver, Canada to Seattle and West Hollywood in Southern California.

San Jose saw one installed in 2016 near its Billy DeFrank LGBTQ Community Center on The Alameda. Another Santa Clara County city, Cupertino, in 2021 unveiled a rainbow stripe adjacent to a yellow crosswalk across Stevens Creek Boulevard at Finch Avenue.

In a tweet about it, the city welcomed residents to "walk through Cupertino with pride" and noted it "installed the rainbow crosswalk to say that everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, is welcome in Cupertino."

The rainbow crosswalks at Washington Avenue and Parrott Street in downtown San Leandro have held up well since being installed in 2019. Photo: Cynthia Laird  

In Alameda County, the city of San Leandro dedicated a rainbow crosswalk in 2019 in its downtown at Parrott Street and Washington Avenue. The year prior, a rainbow crosswalk was painted across Telegraph Avenue in front of Oakland's White Horse Inn, one of the oldest LGBTQ watering holes in the country. A rainbow crosswalk was also painted near the site of the Oakland Pride festival at 20th and Franklin streets several years ago, but it has faded.

The city of Pinole in Contra Costa County may soon sport its own rainbow crosswalk. Gay City Councilmember Devin Murphy, currently serving as Pinole's ceremonial mayor, told the B.A.R. he hopes to get one approved as part of a pedestrian improvement project being planned for the Tennent Street and San Pablo Avenue intersection.

"Who told you my secret?" Murphy joked when contacted by the B.A.R. to see if he knew of any city in his East Bay county with a rainbow crosswalk. "The answer (to the best of my ability) is no! But we are working on designs."

Solano Pride Center Executive Director Jonathan Cook, a gay man, told the B.A.R. no city in his county has a rainbow crosswalk.

"We are interested in exploring the possibility of bringing a permanent rainbow crosswalk to a city in Solano County," said Cook.

The likeliest place to install one would be Vallejo, added Cook, since it is the only city in the county with a gay bar. Gay Vallejo City Councilmember Peter Bregenzer did not respond to the B.A.R.'s query about such a possibility.

Officials with Napa's Pride committee did not respond to a request for comment about seeing a rainbow crosswalk installed in the county.

As for San Mateo County, LGBTQ officials there told the B.A.R. they don't know of any such pedestrian pathways having been installed in a city on the Peninsula or heard of any plans to install one.

"I'm not aware of the county making any moves to paint a rainbow crosswalk," said San Mateo County Pride Center Program Director Francisco "Frankie" Sapp, a disabled, biracial, queer, transgender man.

Jenny Walter, president of Coast Pride, which operates an LGBTQ community center in downtown Half Moon Bay and hosts LGBTQ events in the cities along the San Mateo coast, told the B.A.R. she would inquire about seeing a rainbow crosswalk be installed. One could go in at the Main Street and Correas Street intersection near the CoastPride Center's building.

"I'll advocate with the city of HMB and see, let you know how it goes," Walter, who is bisexual, wrote in an emailed reply.

Tanya Beat, who identifies as lesbian and queer and is director of the San Mateo County Commission on the Status of Women and the LGBTQ Commission, told the B.A.R. the closest installation to a rainbow crosswalk on the Peninsula that she is aware of would be the entrance stairs to Aragon High School in San Mateo. The school's outdoor stairway received a makeover this past Memorial Day Weekend and now sports the colors of the Progress Pride flag.

The school newspaper, The Aragon Outlook, noted in an Instagram post that the installation was a senior gift from the Class of 2022 but debuted this year, partly because the wet winter delayed the ability to paint the stairs.

When told of the Dutch queen's stroll across the Castro rainbow crosswalk, Kellman noted to the B.A.R. that dignitaries often visit Sausalito. She said she would have to invite them to walk across her city's rainbow crosswalks and do a "whole series" of photos of their visits.

"They are really festive," Kellman said of the rainbow-colored pedestrian safety measures.

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.