In 2004, the previous mayor of New Paltz, Jason West, officiated 25 gay couples in marriage outside of Village Hall.
At the time, it was illegal to marry a couple of the same sex. West was charged with solemnizing a marriage without a license, a misdemeanor. Criminal charges were pressed against him, fewer than the number of ceremonies he performed because there were only 19 eye witnesses.
Same-sex marriage became legal in New York on July 24, 2011 under the Marriage Equality Act.
New Paltz made great strides on this day to show its acceptance of same-sex couples. It made headlines in The New York Times, one of which read, “Gay Couples Recall a Pivotal Day in New Paltz.”
Current New Paltz Village Trustee, Don Kerr, has noticed rainbow crosswalks in other communities in an effort to represent the LGBTQ+ community.
“I saw it in Atlanta and I was a little annoyed. New Paltz performed weddings when it was totally illegal. The only people doing it was us and San Francisco,” said Kerr. “I thought we should be in on that movement.”
Kerr attended the illegal same sex weddings in 2004. He believes that this event is something that makes New Paltz special as a community and the importance of memorializing these events. Deputy Town Supervisor Dan Torres, Executive Director of Hudson Valley LGBTQ+ Center Jeff Rindler, and Kerr all came together and proposed the idea of a rainbow crosswalk in our town.
The village board was unanimous. “It was beautiful to see,” Kerr said.
It is not as easy as it seems though. Kerr explained the main struggle is financial. What first comes to mind is painting the crosswalk with rollers, except this would only last about a month. The next idea was a paint machine, which the Department of Public Works agreed to, except between each color you would need to clean the machine, which takes several hours.
Both of these options felt unrealistic. Thermoplastic seemed to be the preferred medium, except that is expensive. They decided to have a fundraiser. The lowest bid was $14,000. Kerr explained that it would be almost impossible. Soon after, a company out of Saugerties, Straight Line Industries volunteered to do this project for $5,000.
Torres set up a GoFundMe to raise the money. It can be found using the keywords “Paint the Village Rainbow” or at https://www.gofundme.com/paint-the-village-rainbow.
So far, over $1,000 has been raised.
The financial struggle was followed closely by a bureaucratic one. Their original vision was to have the rainbow crosswalk both at the beginning and end of the Pride Parade, but the starting line was across from the New Paltz Middle School, which is on a state road. Federal crosswalk regulations are very specific. On the village road, the process becomes much easier. The crosswalk is planned to connect Peace and Hasbrouck parks, which is the finish line for the New Paltz Pride Parade.
“I think it is going to become a place where everyone will want to take a picture,” said Kerr. “I hope it will generate tourism. Maybe in the future the village will choose to maintain it on its own because people want to go there.”
Second-year communications studies major Caitlin Pastore agrees.
“It would help bring a greater sense of inclusivity and unity to our town,” she said. “Plus, it would be nice to see it when walking or driving around; I know I would be happy every time I saw it.”
Olivia Espinoza, a second-year geology major, also encourages the idea of a possible rainbow crosswalk.
“As a queer woman I think this would be really dope because New Paltz possesses an energy that allows every person to search into themselves,” she said.
Any revolution must have thousands of small steps in order to create the desired change. The rainbow crosswalk is one of these steps, which would symbolize and show love for our LGBTQ+ community. “We are not tolerant; we are enthusiastic, Kerr said. “We love our gay, lesbian, and queer neighbors. They are more than welcome here. They are us.”
The Pride Parade and deadline for the crosswalk to be finished ison June 3. Donate today to help reach this goal!