Story and photos by Stephanie Anne Donoghue, October 2017 Issue.
In August, Tucson joined a growing number of cities that have added rainbow crosswalks to urban spaces. Historic Fourth Avenue, at the intersection of Sixth Street, is now home to the only four rainbow crosswalks in Arizona.
The project, which was formally dedicated Aug. 8, is the result of a collaboration by The Fourth Avenue Merchants Association (FAMA), Southern Arizona Aids Foundation (SAAF), Speedy Striping Inc., and the City of Tucson.
The message Adam Ragan, associate director of LGBTQ Initiatives for SAAF. hopes the rainbow crosswalks convey is that solidarity and inclusivity are a major and vital part of the community.
Ragan was first inspired by the idea of bringing rainbow crosswalks in Tucson four years ago. And, when an opportunity to make this a reality in his city presented itself, the community organizer jumped at it.
However, when asked who the one person most responsible for this effort is, Ragan replied, the “Tucson community,” adding that he attributes the success of the project to all the organizations, people, allies and business within the community.
When Monique Vallery, events director for FAMA, became involved in Ragan’s project about two years ago, their combined efforts started gaining momentum.
Then Lucas Boring, Speedy Striping Inc. president, got on board and donated the time, equipment and services for the project. In addition, he paid his employees overtime for working Sunday afternoon and evening and stated that they were “proud to be part of this effort.”
While rainbow crosswalks in other cities use industrial paint, Speedy Striping estimated that Tucson’s would need a better product to withstand its traffic, monsoons, heat and ultra violet rays.
With the help of its supplier, Speedy Striping developed a new process that – instead of paint – employs recycled stained glass that’s turned into a special mixture and colored to each specific hue. First, an epoxy is laid down and then it’s coated it with one of the colors.
Although and this installation was a first of its kind, combining this product and process, this technique is designed to last at least three years. As a permanent artwork on Fourth Avenue and Sixth street, the crosswalks will then be touched up as needed.
“Other cities interested in creating their own rainbow crosswalks can look to Tucson for guidance and to Speedy Striping for everything from do-it-yourself kits to Speedy Striping doing the installation,” Ragan said.
“Businesses hope the permanent colors draw more people here, bringing people down to the shops, restaurants, and stores,” Vallery added. And so far, the City’s seen a welcoming response.
The project’s dedication, organizers and local leaders shared their support for the LGBTQ community before a diverse crowd.
“Today, we show Arizona, America, and the world that Fourth Avenue and Tucson are proud to stand with, and celebrate, the LGBTQ community,” said the Most Rev. Bennett D. D. Burke, Presiding Bishop of the Liberal Catholic Church International, in his dedication speech.
City council member (Ward 3) Karin Uhlich said she hoped the intersection would be a place to turn when she and others “need a little dose of courage or pride,” adding that the colorful crosswalks “make it crystal clear our community loves us and we belong here.”
The intention of the public art piece, according to project coordinators, is to serve as a visible symbol that LGBTQ individuals are welcome in Tucson.
“We may never know the [project’s] full impact,” Vallery said. “A family five years from now may have a child that sees this and knows this is a safe accepting place. While the child may not be able to express how this support feels, the child can internalize the love Tucson has for all people.”
The next addition to Historic Fourth Avenue, according to Ragan, will be SAAF’s Thornhill Lopez Center (TLC), which will offer essential resources to youth who identify as LGBTQ and their youth allies. For more information of TLC, visit saaf.org.
The Fourth Avenue Merchants Association is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the growth and development of the businesses and communities in the Historic Fourth Avenue Business District. The mission of the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation is to cultivate a healthy and stigma-free society through transformative action.
For more information, visit fourthavenue.org.