Picture this: You’re walking in downtown Athens, and you turn to cross the street, in front of you is not the generic, white-striped crosswalk, but a rainbow. This rainbow crosswalk is Cameron Harrelson’s vision for Athens.
On Oct. 2, Harrelson — an Athens resident and activist — posted a petition to Facebook asking viewers to support the implementation of rainbow crosswalks in downtown Athens as a “permanent symbol” of the community’s support and allyship of LGBTQ community.
The petition gained traction quickly, and secured around 1,000 supporters in seven hours. The petition now has over 2,700 signatures as of press time — over halfway to its 5,000 signature goal.
“Social media is a great way to rally activists around a cause,” Harrelson said.
This effort comes in a moment of heightened visibility for the LGBTQ community in Athens. This year’s Athens PRIDE Street Festival, which took place on Sept. 30, hosted a record number of attendees and vendors, Harrelson said. This year, Harrelson worked as events director for Athens PRIDE, and said the event’s turnout inspired the project.
“As I was leaving the festival and walking back to my car, I was thinking ‘What can we do next,’” Harrelson said. “The timing [for the petition] was perfect, coming off the heels of one of the most successful PRIDE festivals we’ve ever seen.”
The idea for rainbow crosswalks have popped up around the country in large cities like San Francisco, Hollywood, Seattle, Key West, Florida, Miami Beach, Florida, Philadelphia and even small towns like Ames, Iowa.
“I started thinking about how Atlanta installed rainbow crosswalks after their PRIDE a few years ago and thought it would be really cool to see something like that here,” Harrelson said.
Harrelson recognizes that the feat will not be accomplished overnight, but said he spoke with Athens-Clarke County District 2 Commissioner, Mariah Parker, District 4 Commissioner, Allison Wright and members of the Athens Downtown Development Authority about possible directions for the project.
Wright said she wants to paint a whole intersection, culminating in a total of four crosswalks, and suggested Hancock Avenue since it just got repainted and currently has temporary paint.
“It would be great if we could fast-track this so before they put down the permanent, traditional white crosswalk, we could get paint for the rainbow,” Wright said.
The temporary paint may make it possible to place rainbow crosswalks at the corner of South Lumpkin Street and Hancock Avenue, Wright said, but the likelihood of the project’s success will depend on cost and accessibility to paint.
Wright said she asked Mayor Kelly Girtz to look into the cost of the project. Girtz said he asked his staff to do evaluation work to measure the feasibility of the project.
“I’ve been involved in a minor way thus far as requests and conversations have happened in the last couple of weeks,” Girtz said in an email. “I expect more planning will be done in the next few months.”
The Athens Downtown Development Authority staff created a visual preference survey for the Clayton Street Improvements Project, an ongoing effort to renovate the street, in order to gauge particular interest in various features of the plan, said David Lynn, director of planning and outreach, in an email.
The survey provided participants with stock images of five potential options for new crosswalks downtown, in which 15% of participants preferred the option which pictured rainbow crosswalks.
Harrelson said he hopes the crosswalk communicates a sense of love and acceptance for the LGBTQ community in Athens.
“Symbols like these are important for the LGBT community because they let them know that the city is on their side,” Harrelson said. “We’re conveying a message to anyone that comes to our city or lives here that we're a place of acceptance and hate has no home here.”