Rainbow rebellion in Australia after "gay" crossing torn up

SYDNEY Tue Apr 16, 2013 10:39pm EDT

A pedestrian walks across a rainbow pedestrian crossing painted on Sydney's Oxford street, the city's main gay district April 4, 2013. REUTERS/David Gray

A pedestrian walks across a rainbow pedestrian crossing painted on Sydney's Oxford street, the city's main gay district April 4, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/David Gray

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australians have taken to the streets to create rainbows with colorful chalk in protest after a rainbow pedestrian crossing in Sydney's main gay district was removed as a safety hazard, despite calls to retain it as a statement of gay pride.

Sydney's annual Mardi Gras gay pride celebration is one of Australia's biggest tourist draws, and the colorful stripes on Oxford Street were originally painted to recognize the 35th anniversary of the event in March for a one-month trial period.

But the crossing, which became something of a tourist magnet, was removed on April 11 despite a petition drive that netted 15,000 signatures and the support of people like former tennis star Martina Navratilova.

State officials said the crossing was dangerous, citing CCTV footage showing people lying down on the road to take photos.

In response, James Brechney, 29, chalked a rainbow crossing in the laneway outside his home and posted a photo on Facebook.

Now his "DIY Rainbow Crossings" page has garnered over 17,000 likes in under a week and prompted the chalking of similar rainbows on streets all across Australia and as far away as France, the United States and Germany. One woman posted a photo of a rainbow chalked on her legs.

"It was a celebration of the short-lived crossing that we had in Sydney and I'm just so thrilled it's taken off globally," Brechney said.

A YouTube video was even posted of men chalking rainbow stripes in front of the office of Duncan Gay, the roads minister in New South Wales state.

Gay said he was more than willing to take the criticism, but that the chalked rainbows themselves were potentially dangerous.

"Please be very careful where you place these crossings because a young child might be injured or even killed," he said.

But the movement appears set to continue, with calls for rainbow chalkings outside parliament in New Zealand, which is expected to pass a marriage equality bill later on Wednesday.

"Our chalk rainbows have overridden the memory of seeing that big ugly machine scraping off our Oxford Street rainbow," wrote one post on Facebook. "Let's keep our voice loud and beautiful - the world needs a lot of this right now."

(Reporting by Michael Sin; Editing by Elaine Lies)