April 10, 2013 00:00 By Sid Astbury
Sydney squabbles over its gay-friendly pedestrian crossing
A pedestrian crossing in rainbow colours has become a sacred site for Sydney’s gay and lesbian community.
Pilgrims come to where Australia’s first gay pride march set off 35 years ago - a protest met by police brutality, arrests and prosecutions.
“For us to now have our flag at where that parade started is of immense historical importance and it also shows how far we’ve come and how celebrated we are,” says parliamentarian Alex Greenwich.
He is leading a campaign to retain the crossing but it looks set to be painted over. Authorities say too many people are putting their lives at risk for it to become permanent.
“We saw more than 15 incidents in a month, including people lying and sitting on the road,” Roads Minister Duncan Gay said. “I’ve seen the footage where cars have been queued up as people have been sitting on the road posing for photographs.”
Greenwich has collected more than 15,000 signatures to a petition to have the rainbow crossing remain.
“It’s a bit of history,” says Hamburg-born Nicole Reese, a young German in Australia studying teacher-training who took the bus into town at the weekend just to see it. “It’s important. It’s like we have the Berlin Wall.”
Sandro Miranda, a Brazilian who has been working in Sydney for seven years, also came specially to see the rainbow crossing and take pictures to send back home.
“It’s sad if they’re removing it," he says. “It’s good because there are people who still don’t relate to the rainbow colours as a gay symbol.”
Officials find themselves both delighted at the success of their instant icon and fearful of the backlash its removal might unleash.
This has led them into contradictory statements and policy stances.
Sydney tourism officials, on websites encouraging foreign visitors to come for the month-long Mardi Gras festival in March, featured images of the rainbow crossing in their brochures.
It was billed as part of a “vibrant, electric, free celebration of the power and beauty of diversity, bursting with creativity, colour and wonder designed to provoke and entertain.”
Greenwich wonders how the crossing - expensively made with anti-skid paint - could be hailed as a money-spinning tourist attraction one month and be a traffic hazard and focus for anti-social behaviour the next.
“They're being a bit bloody minded about this," he said. "We haven’t had any accidents. The safety concerns are really nonsense.”
The plans for removal appear to be on hold. Lord Mayor Clover Moore, who is a fan of the rainbow crossing, is lobbying for its retention.
The pedestrian crossing outside London’s Abbey Road music recording studios that featured on the cover of the eponymous 1969 album by the Beatles has received hundreds of thousands of visitations without death or injury.
The Abbey Road crossing, now protected in law for its “cultural and historical importance”, is as popular as its Sydney counterpart yet is not considered a safety risk.
Some suggest the authorities are running scared, that they want to silence their critics by painting over a gay totem on the pretext it has become dangerous.
“As with all other gifts to noisy protest movements, the rainbow crosswalk has again demonstrated the failure of appeasement,” Sydney's Daily Telegraph growled. “Too much is never enough for minority activists.”
Columnist Piers Akerman claimed the crossing was a “politically correct push by the noisy end of the homosexual lobby to inflict its narrow agenda on the broader community”.
Authorities have offered what they term a compromise: a recreation of the rainbow crossing on a stretch of pavement near Oxford Street that would not interrupt the flow of cars or get in the way of other pedestrian traffic.