by Nathan Boddy
A packed room awaited the Hamilton City Council’s Committee of the Whole (COW) on Tuesday evening, May 25. Only three items were on the agenda for discussion, but it was the item presented by high school students, Frances Carrasco and Inga Watt, which dominated discussion for the evening.
The proposal, as submitted to the council, is entitled ‘Allyship Pride Crosswalk Project.’ Their proposal seeks to gain permission from the Hamilton City Council for participating students from Hamilton H.S. SPURS, Corvallis, and area volunteers, to paint four crosswalks at the intersection of 3rd and State, with Pride flag colors; the rainbow colors long associated with Gay Pride. To that palate the group has also added five more colors. As explained by Carrasco, “The pink, light blue and white is used to represent the trans flag, and the black and brown represent people of color. We thought it was necessary to include all these colors in a project that is all about inclusion.”
The groups seeking permission indicated on their proposal that, “We want to make a physical representation of our purpose in preparation for Pride Month in June.” Some confusion arose from the mention of Gay Pride
Month, with several attendees and committee members unsure if the painting was for the month of June, or intended to be a permanent fixture. The intention of the proposal is for a permanent installment, to be maintained on a yearly basis, and rapidly attended to in the case of vandalism. The students said that the materials required for painting and maintaining of the crosswalk would be donated by Evans Ace Hardware, and that they are willing to work with the City to schedule completion of the work. Their estimate is that it would likely require 30 hours for all prep coating and final painting to complete.
In her summary of the need for such an installment, Carrasco said, “Our generation is seeking more inclusion and less division in our community and our world…This project would make me and my peers proud to call this place home.”
The first to speak during public comment was area resident, Michael Sargent, who was plainly at odds with the idea. “I feel like painting our crosswalks with this political statement is not inclusive at all. It includes some, but because it includes some it excludes others.”
Debra Morgan was also against the proposal, so much so that she likened it to vandalism. “I have nothing against gays, gay pride. As long as you’re a nice person, you’re okay with me. But I don’t think that means… and it will turn into, ‘well I want a crosswalk for this, I want a crosswalk for that’, you know? I don’t dare say ‘I want a white pride crosswalk’, that’s racist. If I say ‘straight pride’, I’m homophobic. I just feel like it’s a slippery slope that the city is going to be sliding down for months if not years to come if we start painting the crosswalks for every single little thing somebody wants to pound their chest about.” Morgan finished by adding, “Be proud, but don’t vandalize the city doing it.”
While several other speakers urged caution or outright opposed the project, multiple comments were made in strong support of the project as well as in praise of the quality of Carrasco’s presentation.
Kathy Dexter, a local medical provider who supports the proposal, spoke about the difficulty that young people can feel in the midst of traditionally conservative small towns which may not seem to welcome them. “I understand the concern about a marginalized group taking every crosswalk in town and I say, if that’s what it takes to make people feel like they’re worthy, I say let’s paint every crosswalk in town.”
David Evans echoed that sentiment by saying, “It is not a political statement. It is a statement about love and inclusion and it will be a beautiful project that will beautify the city. I would welcome another one.” He also pointed out that the people represented by the project have no control over how they were born, and added, “I think those people need to be, as mentioned, welcomed.”
Deb Eckhart, a local mental health provider, gave multiple statistics about suicide and depression rates amongst individuals within the LGBTQ+ community, adding, “I don’t see this as a political issue, I see this as a human rights issue.”
The Committee of the Whole proceeded with their discussion of the proposal, many members questioning the obligations that the City might have in future incidents if they were to approve the proposal. While multiple members commented on the value and importance of the project, there was concern that a precedent could be set whereby any group could petition an installment upon public property. Also of concern was the issue of safety upon the crosswalks and whether art and coloration there could be a distraction to drivers and pedestrians. The suggestion was given several times that the issue might best be addressed by a Public Arts Commission and a regulating ordinance.
Councilor Claire Kemp noted that, “this is a really hard decision to make, but I don’t feel prepared to make that decision.”
Councilor Kristi Bielski gave her support to the project noting, “This is one small thing that we can show our kids and our community that we care about them and that they are part of our community.”
Several ideas, such as a smaller or temporary display were discussed, but the overall sentiment seemed to be captured by Mayor Dominic Farrenkopf when he noted, “I know we just did this with Bike/Walk/Bitterroot, and it should be a good chance for us to take pause and say, is this how we want to proceed with all our crosswalks, and if we do want this public art, is that the place for it?”
The council agreed to move with caution, and asked City staff to answer detailed questions about the project prior to having the issue reviewed again at the next COW meeting on June 8th.