Rainbow crosswalk vandalism isn’t just an isolated local event, but a national problem

This is a joint blog post by Landon Getz and Alex Bond, appearing today on both their blogs. If you’re interested in reprinting it, get in touch.

From Grand Falls-Windsor, NL to Burnaby, BC, Pride is celebrated in Canada across the summer months. Towns and cities across the country raise the rainbow flag and celebrate with parades, concerts, and parties. Increasingly, many are following the lead of Sydney, Australia, which painted a giant rainbow crosswalk in 2013 to mark Sydney Mardi Gras. Local councils describe these as great ways to signal the welcoming and inclusive nature of the town, and celebrating its diversity.

Sadly, not everyone shares that view. Because also from Grand Falls-Windsor to Burnaby, there have been more than 40 incidents of deliberate vandalism of rainbow- or trans-flag-coloured crosswalks since 2015, with new vandalism occuring on an almost weekly basis. The damage ranges from tire burn-out marks, to paint, to actually trying to dig it up from the road. Further, this damage is often covered by local media, including an interview with someone from the LGBTQ2S+ community describing how disappointed they are, and someone from city council expressing surprise that someone in their town could do such a thing and vowing to have it repaired. That’s usually where the story ends.

The reality is that defacing rainbow crosswalks is quite obviously a nation-wide problem. Vandalism has been reported in 7 provinces (none that we could find in PEI, Quebec, or Manitoba), in big cities like Toronto and Vancouver, and small towns like Eastern Passage, NS and Coldstream, BC. In some places, there’s repeated vandalism following repairs, including a record six times in one summer in Miramichi, NB.The effects are more than a bit of soiled pavement.

These events portray a repeated and deliberate attempt to show LGBTQ2S+ people that they are still not welcome, at least not openly, in these communities. Although city councils are aiming to show LGBTQ+ folks that they are welcome and supported, vandalism of these crosswalks shows that members of these communities, nationwide, do not always agree. And although it is a minority, it’s a sizeable one, with 1 in 4 Canadians opposed to same-sex marriage 14 years after it became the law of the land.

This is further reflected in the repeated criticisms of rainbow crosswalks in commentaries from religious groups, so-called “concerned” citizens, and others. This opposition sometimes takes the form of direct frustration with LGBTQ2S+ people and their “sins”, and sometimes takes a shot at the use of taxpayer dollars for “ideological” symbols, even though many rainbow crosswalks are paid for by private organizations.

Vandalism and vocal criticism tell and show LGBTQ2S+ folks that they still need to be careful where and when they embrace and openly share their identities, and that they still need to “code switch”, changing the way they behave or talk based on who else is around. This burden, of constantly being aware and choosing when to express oneself, is a tiresome effort and one that is not always available to the more visible among the LGBTQ2S+ community.

In media stories covering these acts of vandalism, they are portrayed as being one-off, isolated, local incidents. In reality, though, it’s a much bigger, nation-wide problem. However, acknowledging that the surrounding community has Queer-supportive folk, and ensuring visible allyship in many forms (including rainbow crosswalks) can go a long way in pushing back against these acts of vandalism. Collectively, the message vandalism to these symbols sends is that we still have a long way to go,and a lot of work to do, before LGBTQ2S+ folk are not just tolerated, not just accepted, but included in Canadian society.