Paint the Walt Whitman Bridge Rainbow

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Walt Whitman
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The Walt Whitman Bridge is a single-level, seven-lane suspension bridge that reaches across the Delaware River from Philadelphia to Gloucester City in Camden County, New Jersey. It’s also arguably the largest monument to a queer American anywhere in the United States today. Let’s elevate and celebrate LGBTQ representation in our public space and paint the Walt Whitman Bridge the colors of the (Philly) Pride Flag!

THE WHY:

Opened May 16, 1957, the Walt Whitman Bridge was meant to be named after a person of note who had lived in New Jersey. And while some area citizens opposed the name "Walt Whitman Bridge" for a variety of reasons, one big reason was because of the overt depictions of same sex attraction in Whitman’s poetry as well as his general “immoral” lifestyle. Nevertheless, the bridge got its name.

In 2019, now 200 years from his birth, fewer people are familiar with Whitman’s historic life and work, and so his name alone may mean little to a traveler crossing his bridge. The Pride Flag, however, is an internationally recognized symbol of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community and our contributions to society.

While we’ll never know how Whitman may have identified himself in today’s parlance, what we do know is what he wrote about, and that includes his queer attractions and relationships. By painting the Walt Whitman Bridge rainbow we would be recognizing and honoring not only the lived experience of the bridge’s namesake as well as his contributions to queer representation in American literature, but celebrating and inspiring current and future generations of queer Americans by creating one of the country’s largest physical symbols of LGBTQ pride.

THE HOW:

There are a number of ways that we could paint the Walt Whitman Bridge rainbow. The first is to raise corporate and/or grant funding. Another is to wait until the bridge’s next routine round of painting. Other alternatives include adding light and/or light projection elements to the bridge so that it would light up rainbow at night. All of these options and more are feasible. But the goal of this petition is to understand if there is wide enough support for painting the Walt Whitman Bridge rainbow. If there is, we’d then take the next steps and look at working with the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) to leverage that support in exploring the best options.

THE PHILLY PRIDE FLAG:

In our design mock-up of what the Walt Whitman Bridge could look like if it were painted rainbow, we used the increasingly universal Philly Pride Flag rainbow that includes black and brown stripes. While the Pride Flag has had many iterations over the years, this latest one was created right here in Philadelphia in 2017 by local activists in collaboration with the City of Philadelphia’s Office of LGBT Affairs as part of their #MoreColorMorePride campaign in support of racial diversity, equality, and inclusion in the LGBTQ community. 

WHO ARE WE:

This petition is a joint effort between Whitman at 200, a year-long project launching in 2019 organized by the Penn Libraries Kislak Center that aims to reassess Walt Whitman’s estimable contributions to American life, along with StreetsDept.com, a photoblog (and not the city agency) founded by Conrad Benner that documents and celebrates art on the streets of Philadelphia.

FOLLOW ALONG:

Please feel free to follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to get updates from us as we continue to seek support for this petition and talk about all the innovative Whitman at 200 exhibitions, performances, and programs we’ve got coming up over the next several months.