One of the many projects that Social Outreach Seattle (SOSea), the social justice nonprofit that I founded, is working on is the Rainbow Crosswalk project. The crosswalks, painted the same colors of the Rainbow Pride flag, are intended to be used as a signal that Capitol Hill is a safe place where the LGBTQ community is celebrated.
On the surface this would seem like an easy mission to accomplish. And, in fact, for the most part it has been. Most people see the feel-good project for what it is – something that adds a little color to the neighborhood, does not make driving or crossing the street for pedestrians unsafe, and non-offensive. It’s just rainbows for God’s sake.
But then the bigots come out of the woodwork. You know the kind. The guy at work who never fails to say, during the month of February, “I don’t know why black people need a whole month dedicated to them. I’m white. I don’t get a month.”
You know him. Everyone does. Some of us know him well. He might be our father, uncle who is a police officer, or son’s little league coach. He goes to church, owns a business, or legally carried a firearm. He is everywhere despite the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And he lives right here in Seattle, despite the passage of the same-sex marriage bill and popular vote for the freedom to marry.
News of our “little project” seemed to incense straight people. On December 21, KIRO 7 did a story on SOSea and our Rainbow Crosswalk project. What was meant to be a cute snapshot of a community organization doing something positive turned out to be something much bigger. Mr. and Ms. Bigot began to comment on the story and, in doing so, proved to me that Seattle, when it comes to the acceptance and inclusion of the LGBT community, really isn’t that progressive at all.
Here is a small sampling of the comments posted under the story on KIRO’s website:
Dave posted: “Next seattle will have a gay police dept in pink cars & pink lights with a pic on the side of a frute cake & then comes a gay or lezbo santa.”
Skippythedog seemed to agree: “Yes….and all the cops working that area should be in pink tutus. Live your life the way you want to, behind your closed doors, but don’t shove it down my throat on streets that I pay for.”
The general consensus on the website and KIRO’s Facebook page, where the story garnered over 500 comments, received over 1,200 “likes” and was shared 419 times was that the LGBT community has the right to marry who we love so now we should “shut up” and “go sit down somewhere.”
Dave wrote: “The gay’s are a sick bunch who think we should like there lifestyle. Let them keep it themself. If they want to paint anything then paint a big frute cake on the walk. if you bunch want to be gay then keep it to yourself or move to San Fran that’s where the gays should live.”
There were even back-handed compliments (sort of).
Playitagain wrote: “I’m all for gay rights, and voted for gay marriage, but I can’t support this. It would be no different than having a Christian walk, a Muslim walk, a Black walk, and Asian walk, etc. You got gay marriage, now let it rest for a while.”
Del Oconnor chimed in: “How about a rainbow coloured gallows for all the homo’s to hang out lol.”
Joe Clark seemed to have found an ally: “I’m with Del, hang’em High!!!!”
Stephanie Rosenow seemed to sum it up nicely for the bigots, writing: “we dont understand how you havent already won enough rights and priveleges. You got marriage, what more do you want? Be gay and keep it to yourself.”
Way to go Seattle. How progressive of you.
I’m a journalist by trade, and a gay one at that – suffice to say I’ve developed a thick coat of armor. It didn’t bother me that some people disagreed with the project. Hell, that’s to be expected. What did bother me – a great deal, actually – was that my bubble had burst. You know, the one that is still encompassing most of the community who think that winning marriage equality in November equals acceptance and tolerance. It doesn’t. The vile comments coming from the straight community proves that.
It also proves that we’ve got some work to do. And in 2013 I intend to roll up my sleeves and get some things done. SOSea will work on a number of projects that range from erecting a memorial for the people that were lost to HIV/AIDS to filming a documentary entitled Legacy about the life and times of local LGBT elders and their contributions to the rights we now enjoy. But there is no mistake about it, SOSea, through our Straight Allies for Equality (SAFE) program, will work hard to build those bridges between the heterosexual and homosexual communities. It is a must. Although homophobia, on some level, may never go away, we can and must do our best to see that comments that call for the hanging of LGBT persons because we suggest a city crosswalk be painted rainbow colored do not get made, or in this case, made and then agreed with.
Now is our time. The days of the closet are gone forever and with them, so too, is our invisibility cloak. Everything we do as a movement and as a community must be done out in the open, free of corruption, and with the best foot forward. Otherwise we are going to set ourselves back again and again. Lets’ take from the pages of history, lessons learned from other movements and apply them to our struggle. As our movement eventually gives way to the next major effort by a group of people, we can then hold our heads high and feel proud in our Pride that we achieved something together and as the community we claim to be.
Look, I don’t expect everyone to support everything that SOSea does. But what I do expect, because I expect this of myself as well, is that when disagreeing with another leader in the LGBT community, or the policy of an already existing community-based organization, I do so in a way that does not show a house divided. Because the bigots are our enemy and they are out there. While we’ve gone to the altar to get married, they’ve gone back to the drawing board so as we return with marriage certificates and bills signed into law, they return with new ideas and ways to dismantle our newfound happiness. It is important, now more than ever, to show a united front.
The lesson here is to remain vigilant. The need is to continue to support each other. Normally it takes a village. In our case – and this will always be the case – it takes a community.
Shaun Knittel is an openly gay leader in Seattle’s LGBTQ community, US Navy veteran, and Founder and Board President of Social Outreach Seattle (SOSea). As a journalist and public affairs specialist living in Seattle with his soon-to-be husband Yee-Shin Huang. His work as a reporter has appeared in newspapers and magazines throughout the Pacific Northwest. In addition to serving as the Associate Editor at Seattle Gay News, Knittel writes for EDGE Media Network, Out Military News, OutServe Magazine, Best Gay News Magazine and contributes to noiZe Magazine, Village Voice and more.