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Civic project proposes rainbow crosswalks to honor LGBT heritage of Cathedral Square

Milwaukee Pride, in partnership with local LGBT and neighborhood organizations, has advanced a proposal to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett‘s office requesting the installation of rainbow crosswalks in Cathedral Square.

The proposal calls for the rainbow crosswalks to be dedicated in the memory of June Brehm. In 1968, June Brehm opened This Is It! at 419 E. Wells Street to create a safe, welcoming and inclusive space for her gay friends that was as good, if not better, than any other bar in town.

“We ask the City of Milwaukee to honor its incredible LGBT legacy with a decorative rainbow crosswalk at the intersection of Jefferson and Wells,” the proposal noted. “This crosswalk, as the first Milwaukee monument to LGBT people, will be not just a symbol of local pride, but a testament to historic local triumph.”

The proposal has the support of 13 partner organizations, including the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, Cream City Foundation, East Town Association, Cathedral Square Friends, AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin, Milwaukee Pride Parade, Milwaukee LGBT Film & Video Festival, UWM Libraries, Wisconsin LGBT History Project, Fair Wisconsin, Diverse & Resilient, City of Milwaukee Equal Rights Commission, and the Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce.

“Milwaukee Pride has its historic roots in Cathedral Square,” said Michail Takach, vice president of communications. “On June 17, 1989, 500 people marched from Walker’s Point to Cathedral Square, where another 500 had gathered for a rally. The first Milwaukee Pride March earned regional media attention as well as the first-ever endorsement from a Milwaukee Mayor and County Executive. Thirty years later, PrideFest Milwaukee is now the state’s largest annual gathering of LGBT people. But we wouldn’t be here today, if not for that pivotal moment in Cathedral Square.”

This Is It! celebrates the historic claim of being the oldest LGBT bar in Milwaukee and Wisconsin, as well as one of the top 10 longest continuously operating in the United States. Although many LGBT businesses once operated near Cathedral Square, This Is It! is the one and only pre-Stonewall survivor.

“With the Milwaukee Streetcar coming to East Town, a rainbow crosswalk would be a wonderful visual for visitors to see and know they are welcome here,” said Schneider. “It would carry lasting meaning as a continuous, year-round celebration of our LGBT citizens. It would spark conversation about the history of the neighborhood and what it means to LGBT people. Crosswalks would say we are all-inclusive and supportive of all our citizens.”

Since 2010, more than 30 cities worldwide have implemented rainbow crosswalks to commemorate their local LGBT heritage. Alderman Bob Bauman of the 4th District has also offered written support for the concept. The City of Milwaukee Department of Public Works (DPW) has fielded similar requests from community members in the past, concerning rainbow-colored crosswalks in the City of Milwaukee.

“In our research, we found that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has specific rules concerning the colors allowed to be painted in crosswalks,” said the DPW in a statement. “Having shared that information with requestors, DPW staff also offered to work with community members on alternate sites and designs, including rainbow murals installed in an intersection or at mid-block (not crosswalks), and/or on sidewalks.”

The DPW has been aware that other cities have rainbow crosswalks as part of their infrastructure. It was also interested to know how those cities addressed the FHWA regulations to allow for the installations, considering the FHWA sent a letter to the City of Buffalo instructing leaders to “cease and desist” their multi-colored crosswalk installations.

However, the DPW said that it “stands ready to continue its collaborative work with community members, Mayor Barrett, and Common Council members to find a solution that works for everyone.”

© Photo

Rico Rodriguez and Allan Ferguson

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