The removal of Oxford St's rainbow crossing

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Ever since the ironically named State Roads Minister Duncan Gay ordered that the Mardi Gras gay rainbow crossing be removed from Oxford St, rainbows have been cropping up all over the City. They usually do after a storm. From Darlinghurst to Zetland – south along the City’s shiny new bicycle path – locals have taken to the streets, freely decorating our footpaths in every colour of the rainbow in chalk and paint, committing little acts of civil disobedience in the heart of the Nanny State of NSW.

The State Government’s decision to have road crews tar over a popular street crossing at Taylor Square has been a public relations disaster. Local and international media outlets have been outraged by the Liberal Government’s insistence that $30,000 be spent removing a much loved piece of street art. From the UK’s Independent to the BBC, from the Murdoch Press to the local street press, from Facebook to Twitter, worldwide condemnation has gone viral.

The wonderful thing about rainbows is that they just appear – with or without permission. The first time the gay rainbow flag ever made its appearance was in San Francisco during the Gay Pride parade of 1978, when the dykes on bikes roared down Market St bearing rainbow flags. The same year, in 1978 gay and lesbian activists in Sydney  marched from Oxford St  to the police cells of the Kings Cross Station — where activists were detained and outed on the front page of The Sydney Morning Herald, heralding the annual Mardi Gras Parade.

Thirty five years after the first rainbow flag was unfurled and the first gay pride march took place in Sydney, the O’Farrell Government sponsored a Mardi Gras festival with “gay and lesbian” removed from the official title, police harassed gay participants at the world famous event and a popular rainbow crossing was removed one month after Mardi Gras.

While it may not come as a shock that same Liberal government that introduced legislation to remove the popularly elected State MP Clover Moore from the Parliament less than a year ago, should engage in petty bureaucratic manoeuvres to remove a rainbow crossing championed by Clover Moore, the decision has made the state Liberal Government appear small minded at best and intolerant at worst.

Of course all streets have two sides. According to sources inside Town Hall, the O’Farrell Government only approved a rainbow crossing installation for a month. Under the terms of the agreement between the State and City governments, $70,000 would be spent painting a slick, non-stick crossing that would be removed by the start of April. Town Hall sources claim that the Lord Mayor requested that the flag remain past Easter Monday, putting the City in breach of its original agreement. Once the original deadline passed, Minister Gay personally ordered that the flag be removed. Apparently the State will send the City a bill for $30,000 on the hopes that Lord Mayor Clover Moore instructs that the bill is not paid.

And now, having created a public relation’s coup, Clover Moore’s Town Hall is left to clean up. Under policies drafted and implemented during her nine year tenure, any unapproved street art, Graffiti, or posters in the City of Sydney must be removed from any highly visible site within twenty four hours of its identification, unless it is approved. The City of Sydney pays $2.5 million per year to rid the street of unauthorised street art. Presumably guerrilla painted rainbow crossings will not be spared.

As local artists, free speech activists and residents will attest, the City of Sydney vigilantly removes any and all unapproved street art. Residents directly behind Oxford St can tell you how a nanny state works.  In Foley St, directly behind a row of under developed Council-owned, Oxford St buildings, the City recently hosted a street art show, complete with a street party directly outside an apartment block of aggrieved residents’ doors. A few street savvy locals stencilled art onto their building for the Friday night street party, which was opened by the Lord Mayor: “Chairman Moore has plans that do not include residents.” By Monday morning the offending street art had been removed. The City funded and approved murals remain on public exhibition.