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Rainbow message shaped for prime Main St. crosswalk

Melinda Shaw recently pitched the rainbow crosswalk idea to the Board of Public Works after hearing about a fledgling movement in other cities, particularly on the West Coast, and conducting her own online research. The rainbow crosswalk would replace an existing white one that crosses Main Street from near Thornes Marketplace’s entrance to in front of TD Banknorth.

The crosswalk will consist of a series of stripes in bright, solid colors similar to the rainbow flag of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple.

If successful, Shaw believes the crosswalk would be among the first in an East Coast community. In addition to being aesthetically pleasing, she hopes the crosswalk will become a permanent conversation starter.

“I think it’s a great symbol of openness and diversity,” she said, noting that hanging a rainbow flag at City Hall one week a year isn’t enough.

The BPW approved the project earlier this week, agreeing to donate the labor to install the crosswalk. Meanwhile, Shaw is launching an effort to raise the $1,700 it will take to buy the materials and pay for other costs. She has created a Facebook page called Northampton Rainbow Crosswalk Project that links to her blog where people can donate.

If all goes as planned, the crosswalk will be in place in time for the Pride march scheduled for May 3, Shaw said. The crosswalk is on the parade route.

Shaw said she has received the endorsement of Mayor David J. Narkewicz and City Council President William H. Dwight, and is expected to outline her plan before the Transportation and Parking Commission Tuesday.

Dwight believes the idea is expression of pride and an effort to work toward equality for all.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Dwight said. “Holyoke paints green shamrocks in the center of town as an expression of Irish pride. I think this is just as appropriate.”

Chairman Terry Culhane said the project is appropriate given that the city has hosted the gay pride parade for years, it’s been a decade since the approval of same-sex marriage and the city has a history of supporting the gay community. Plus, he said, “it sounds kind of fun.”

Shaw is known for her work on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights and a vocal activist in the Northampton community since the mid-1990s. In addition to serving as president of the now defunct Northampton Area Lesbian & Gay Business Guild in 1995, she helped Northampton Pride Inc. organization for 11 years until 2009. For the past four years, Shaw worked with the LGBT Coalition of Western MA and joined the board of directors.

In addition to donating online, people can contribute to the cause by sending a check to the city of Northampton, with rainbow crosswalk project in the memo line. Shaw said she hopes to raise more than $1,700 to cover the cost of repainting the crosswalk each year, or to expand the effort to other crosswalks in the city.

“If it takes off, maybe all of the crosswalks will be this way,” Dwight said.

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