Atlanta rainbow crosswalks saga coming to a (temporary?) end

If you want to get that picture of Midtown’s rainbow crosswalks you’ve been meaning to take, better make it quick. Robert Sepulveda, Jr., founder of the Atlanta Rainbow Crosswalks project, confirms that they’re being removed on Saturday and Sunday morning, Oct. 24 and 25.

It was more time than initially expected for the project, which the city gave a permit for as long as it was gone from the intersection of 10th Street and Piedmont Avenue by Oct. 16.

“But the company that we used didn’t have the materials so we just went over a bit,” Sepulveda tells Georgia Voice. “The city was understanding to that.”

Robert Sepulveda, Jr., founder of the Atlanta Rainbow Crosswalks, paints a ceremonial first stripe during the Oct. 8 installation of the crosswalks. (File photo)
Robert Sepulveda, Jr., founder of the Atlanta Rainbow Crosswalks, paints a ceremonial first stripe during the Oct. 8 installation of the crosswalks. (File photo)

The removal will mark the end of a very high profile chapter that was both celebrated and contentious. Approval of permanent rainbow crosswalks appeared to be given at an Urban Design Commission meeting on Aug. 12, but a Sept. 15 email to Sepulveda from Department of Public Works Commissioner Richard Mendoza stated that the project could only be temporary and run from Oct. 3 to Oct. 16.

Mayor Reed’s office told Georgia Voice that the project was never approved for permanent status. Sepulveda disagreed, and claimed Wednesday afternoon that the city will be releasing a statement possibly by the end of the week that will back him up. Eddie Granderson, public art manager for the City of Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs, tells us he does not know about such a statement being issued and the mayor’s office tells us they have no plans on issuing such a statement.

The project received over $44,000 in donations, which raised the ire of many in the community who felt people should have donated their money to other causes, with homeless LGBT youth organization Lost-N-Found Youth being mentioned often as a possible recipient. WUSSY, an online magazine for queer Southerners, issued one particularly brutal takedown on the matter.

In fact, Lost-N-Found Youth’s name came up so frequently that the group felt compelled to issue a statement on the matter, titled “Reflecting On Pride 2015”:

“Our great strength in Atlanta is our diversity with deep roots from our collective civil rights history. Even within our own LGBTQ community, there are many diverse voices, priorities and perspectives. What unites us is our common goal to improve our community, push boundaries, further our legal rights, and help those who are less fortunate. Lost-n-Found Youth’s sole mission is take LGBTQ youth off the street and provide shelter. Other groups have different missions and sets of goals, and those organizations benefit all of us in different ways. That’s what makes our community unique. We believe there’s room for all of us in the gay community to support each other and help one another make Atlanta a better place for everyone. As we look back at last weekend’s incredibly successful and inspiring Atlanta Pride, let’s not forget that we’re all one big family and we should continue to support and love each other.”

In other words, pump your brakes y’all and let’s all have a Coke and a smile. And if you’re wondering just how LNFY’s fundraising for their future shelter at 5th Street and Juniper Street is going, the group’s executive director Rick Westbrook told us Wednesday that they’re holding off on major fundraising efforts until they can get (what else?) permits.

Lost-N-Found Youth executive director Rick Westbrook at a Sept. 2014 preview of the group's new shelter, with former homeless youth, with current LNFY board member Daniel Pierce looking on. (File photo)
Lost-N-Found Youth executive director Rick Westbrook at a Sept. 2014 preview of the group’s new shelter, with former homeless youth and current LNFY board member Daniel Pierce looking on. (File photo)

“It’s been a long process with the permits, but we had a meeting with the city last week,” Westbook said. “We went over all the drawings, there’s just little changes to be made, a word here or there. I’m waiting on a response back from the city with a question that came up yesterday. As soon as I have that answer we’ll change the verbiage or leave it the way it is, print it and resubmit. So I’m hoping and praying that hopefully by the 48-hour vigil I’ll have permits in and and then we’ll start our major push for fundraising.”

Westbrook is referring to his annual vigil outside of Burkhart’s Pub, where he lives for 48 hours with no money or other means, dependent on food and other necessities from visitors while LNFY staff collect donations. This year’s vigil is on November 6 and 7.

As for the future of the crosswalks, Sepulveda says they are still focused on making them a permanent part of the city at some point in the future. He says the temporary crosswalks project cost about $20,000, and after legal and other fees related to setting up Atlanta Rainbow Crosswalks as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, they have about $17,000 of the $44,000 remaining.

A full breakdown of the expenses was added to the Atlanta Rainbow Crosswalks website on Oct. 17, including a note that two refunds were issued to donors: $5,000 to Karen Wilbanks, executive director of the Robert and Polly Dunn Foundation, and $2,500 to Deke Lee.

We’ll give the last word to Sepulveda:

“The overall reaction from the community has been great. Some people have brought up issues that just aren’t really related to the crosswalks at all. In my personal opinion, I think that we accomplished a historic moment in Atlanta and we did something great. And hopefully next year we’ll be able to do it again, and before that hopefully we can put them up permanently. Our goal is always going to be to have the crosswalks there permanently at 10th Street and Piedmont Avenue.”