The city of Cagayan de Oro in northeastern Mindanao unveiled its first rainbow pedestrian lane on 20th Street in front of the barangay hall of Nazareth on 10 November 2019. Conceptualized by the local LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and others) group, the initiative was spearheaded by the barangay council of Nazareth, led by its barangay captain Maximo “Jonjon” Rodriguez III, with the support of the Barangay Nazareth Sangguniang Kabataan (Nazareth Barangay Youth Council).
“The main purpose for this LGBT pedestrian lane is to provide diversity and give importance to our LGBT community and to let the world know that we care and acknowledge them,” the Sangguniang Kabataan stated.
Attractive rainbow crosswalks have become symbols of solidarity and support of a community to its LGBTQ+ members. The practice started in 2012 in West Hollywood in the United States and Tel Aviv in Israel as part of LGBTQ+ Pride celebrations and spread around the world, including the Philippines. The barangay of Subangdaku in Mandaue City, Cebu, painted a rainbow crosswalk on Lopez Jaena Highway in January 2015. This was followed by Araneta Center in Cubao, Quezon City, in 2018; and San Julian, Eastern Samar, in June 2019. Manila unveiled four multi-colored pedestrian lanes at the intersection of Arroceros and Natividad streets on 23 October 2019. In Mindanao, perhaps the first one was created on R. Castillo Street in the barangay of Lapu-Lapu, Agdao District, Davao City, in July 2019.
The rainbow crosswalk in Cagayan de Oro City was painted by the LGBTQ+ community of the barangay and from other parts of the city, which made it to front page of the 12 November 2019 issue of the community newspaper SunStar Cagayan de Oro.
“I was invited to help with the painting. I have been very supportive of the activities of LGBT Nazareth,” said one volunteer, Barbie Neri, a 35-year-old company owner, call center agent and transgender woman. “We started on 9 November 2019 and it was finished on the same day. The rainbow crosswalk is not new to me because other cities and countries had started it already and I wanted to be part of the breakthrough in our barangay and in our city.”
“Painting the colors was very memorable because that was the time I came to know about the real meaning of each color,” she added.
Cagayan de Oro City has become one of few places in Mindanao that has made strides in awareness on sexual orientation, gender identity expression and sexual characteristics, and in efforts to achieve equality. It was here that the first Pride march in the island happened in 2017. But there is still much needed progress.
“If you are a transgender person, it is like you are walking into a pit of hungry wolves,” Neri related. “The main problem is a lot of the members of LGBT have been used to being tolerated and never saw the problem. They also fear to be subjects of scrutiny if they fight for it. I always believe in strength by numbers so if LGBT of CDO (Cagayan de Oro) will not truly unify for the causes and welfare of the community then we will never achieve the goals we are aiming for.”
The rainbow crosswalk itself drew mixed reactions, many of which were negative.
“I was quite alarmed and shocked by the comments and opinions on social media,” Neri said. “Numerous people had opposed the said initiative which led to unwanted bashings and hasty generalizations.”
A SunStar Cagayan de Oro article, “Rainbow crosswalk to show support to LGBTQ+ community” by PJ Orias, reported that “for many netizens, the road can be confusing for motorists and may cause accidents, while others pointed out that the paint is not up to the standards of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).”
Neri said that comments include those saying that “pedestrian lanes should be white, that it attracts accidents and mishaps, that it is vandalism and that the initiative is a cry for acceptance and some things irrelevant to the topic that maligned the LGBT.”
This was the case of the Davao City rainbow crosswalk, which the regional DPWH office considered a form of vandalism, said that it can pose danger to pedestrians and ordered reverting to its original white color. They also noted the use of ordinary latex paint which quickly fades away. The standard rules and regulation of international road signs recommend using white and yellow in painting pedestrian lanes as these colors are readily noticeable to motorists.
However, DPWH has no jurisdiction over barangay roads such as 20th Street. Additionally, the said street has never had a pedestrian lane before and it is not discernible how having a rainbow crosswalk makes it dangerous. Fears about non-traditional or creative crosswalk are not based on evidence. Currently, there have been no studies on the dangers posed by non-traditional lanes and there have not been any accidents that can be directly attributed to them. On the other hand, despite white and yellow lanes being in place for many years, there are still road accidents, even increasing in some instances, but these do not readily mean lack of effectiveness.
Despite the controversy, Rodriguez said he will not repaint the crosswalk and resolved to make the barangay welcoming to the LGBTQ+.
Neri said, “I am still happy though that there are people who still support it and are still in favor of it. There are people who truly understood and accepted it.” She added that the initiative “is a sign of progress and shows that Nazareth is an LGBT-friendly barangay.”
“It also gave us a clear sign that a lot of people still do not understand,” Neri further said. “People have not accepted so we should solidify our efforts in educating the world and never stop with just minor roadblocks from bashing and negative comments. Retaliation and vengeance are not the solution because people fear what they do not understand. Instead, education and providing knowledge about what LGBT is fighting for should be advocated.”
Despite the numerous struggles, Neri believes that the LGBTQ+ of Cagayan de Oro City “is an epitome of resilience.”