South Portland Public Works crews paint a crosswalk in rainbow colors. The city ordered three crosswalks painted in this fashion to recognize Pride Month. Courtesy / City of South Portland

SOUTH PORTLAND — Members of South Portland’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning community got a colorful show of support from the city last week in the form of rainbow-colored crosswalks.

On June 25, public works employees painted three crosswalks  – one behind City Hall, one on the corner of Anthoine Street and Broadway, and one in front of South Portland High School – in vivid colors in recognition of Pride Month in June.

City Councilor Katelyn Bruzgo, who identifies as gay, said as far back as when she was first running for office she had wanted to see South Portland offer some sort of visible symbol of LGBTQ support, just as other communities have traditionally done, a goal she pursued even after becoming a councilor.

“We want to make sure the LGBTQ community know that we see them, and we support them, and make sure they feel that,” she said.

At the time, however, the state Department of Transportation had prohibited painting crosswalks. That changed this year, when City Manager Scott Morelli discovered the state had amended its rules to allow the painting, so he said he worked with Bruzgo to make it happen.

“I am proud that South Portland is a city where we can show this display of support during Pride Month for our LGBTQ+ community members,” Morelli said.

Bruzgo

Bruzgo said it cost nothing more than “a few hundred dollars” in colorful paint. The workers, she said, were already doing routine painting of sidewalks throughout the city anyway, so there was no additional labor required.

Chris O’Connor, a gay man living in South Portland who is also the development director for EqualityMaine, an advocacy and activist group for the LGBTQ community in Maine, said he had no idea the transformation was happening, and was stunned to see the colors in the street.

“I got choked up, because it’s such a visible sign,” he said.

Other communities in Maine have done similar things in the past, O’Connor said, such as Bangor, which also has a rainbow-colored crosswalk, and Hallowell, which has a display of multicolored stairs at a park in town, but this was the first time he had seen such a display in South Portland. He said public presentations have an impact, especially on young people struggling with their sexuality and identity.

“It’s those little things that make such a difference,” he said.

Bruzgo said she grew up in Cape Elizabeth and Portland and can remember in her teens having people shout anti-gay slurs at her in Portland while she was walking hand in hand with someone. She hopes the crosswalks can help spur awareness of homophobia in South Portland and beyond.

“That is something we all have to look at, and find ways to combat that,” she said. “It is a real thing, and is not something that has gone away.”

On the city’s Facebook page, some people did react negatively, one person calling the sidewalks “offensive,” and another asking why taxpayer dollars should be funding the project. Bruzgo said those comments did not particularly bother her, especially with comments such as, “This little action of good feels huge right now,” and “Thank you so much for this commitment to inclusivity” also on the page.

“I’ve noticed many more positive comments than negative,” she said.

Bruzgo also praised new efforts to create a human rights commission in South Portland. While that effort was sparked largely by an interest in fighting racism, she believes the commission will also work to protect LGBTQ interests as well.

“I couldn’t possibly support it more,” she said.

Sean Murphy 780-9094

Email: [email protected]

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