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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Not what Spokane represents’: Overnight string of vandalism appears on Spokane LGBTQ+ landmarks

As Paula Cleanthous was out on her morning walk on the Monroe Street Bridge Friday, she remembered thinking, “Somebody has taken care of that graffiti.”

But when she reached Riverfront Park and the street cleaners were in the process of washing away paint splattered all over the rainbow crosswalk on Howard Street, it was another letdown.

Spokane woke up to a string of anti-LGBTQ+ vandalism on Friday morning, with white paint strewn across rainbow crosswalks that were meant to represent LGTBQ+ pride. The Pride flag crosswalk was painted in June as the result of inclusive efforts by Spokane Arts and City Council Member Zack Zappone. A report was filed with Spokane Police Department, and they are currently investigating the vandalism.

“I think Spokane is a great city. This is the kind of stuff that I just don’t get,” Cleanthous said.

To her, these things seem to happen so often now that the vandalism of the LGBTQ+ crosswalk didn’t send many shock waves.

“It’s so common, and this happened to be a big one. But it’s still not a shock,” Cleanthous said.

Street cleaners were able to clear the paint, but it wasn’t the only incident. The rainbow crosswalk on South Perry Street was also vandalized overnight outside of the Odyssey Youth Movement, an organization meant to provide resources and a safe space to LGBTQ+ youth. The organization’s sign was covered in even more paint, and the vandals left their paint-covered footprints on the outside steps, making this the second time in less than a month that the crosswalk outside was vandalized.

Odyssey’s executive director, Ian Sullivan, said the two incidents were obviously targeted and meant to make people feel unwelcome, but the organization will remain open for drop-ins and calls in case anyone feels unsafe.

“Our work this morning has been prepping to make sure the folks and the whole rest of the LGBTQ community knows things like this are not going to stop us,” Sullivan said. “It’s not going to silence us.”

There’s a lot of motivation to make sure that the recent vandali sm doesn’t make the city stray from inclusive public art, Sullivan said. The art is meant to be celebratory, and within the Perry District, Sullivan said he’s felt that with the neighboring businesses.

“The neighbors are fired up to show this is not what the district represents,” he told The Spokesman-Review. “And this is not what Spokane represents.”

Odyssey’s security cameras didn’t catch anyone in the act, but Sullivan said he knows police have gone from business to business gathering statements and trying to collect video surveillance. It’s hard to imagine the two incidents from downtown to Perry aren’t connected, he said.

Among the two crosswalks splattered with paint, another Spokane resident is also on high alert.

Tina Sullivan, the owner of Atomic Threads on Monroe Street, woke up to a phone call from someone walking by the store to tell her the front window was shattered.

Her fingers are wrapped with bandages from cleaning up the glass herself. Nothing was stolen from inside the store, which tells her the incident was targeted .

Atomic Threads is an openly queer business – on top of selling vintage clothing and trinkets, the store hosts LGBTQ+ outreach events and classes to connect with the community. Just last week, the store held a queer clothing exchange, Sullivan said. The store often flies a pride flag outside that has been ripped down multiple times, and people have shot paint balls at the outside walls.

“It’s really disheartening,” she said. “I just want people to be kind. Life is hard enough. Just be kind to those around you.”

Sullivan said her landlord also told her to take the pride flags down – he told her they were political.

“Our sheer existence has become politicized,” she told The Spokesman-Review. “And people know we are very ‘out there’ in the community.”

The night’s events prompted Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward to release a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter. In it, her office wrote that the vandalism near Riverfront Park was unacceptable.

“This is not what Spokane is or what we stand for. We are better than this. It’s time for us to expect better of each other and of our actions,” the statement read.

After Woodward was unwilling to discuss spending cuts with the City Council earlier in her term, she made a post questioning the city’s expenditures on the crosswalks.

She said at the time that the city should be focused on organizational efficiencies and the hiring freeze, rather than “funding rainbow crosswalks and creating a shadow government on the 7th floor of city hall.” She clarified her comments about the crosswalks later, saying it was more about the city’s priorities and extra expenses.

When the Spokane Arts Commission helped pave the way for the rainbow crosswalks, Melissa Huggins was their executive director. On Friday, she wrote on X that repeated public statements from high-ranking city officials such as the mayor questioning the installation can rile people up against minorities, and that can bring real-world consequences.

“Words matter! People act on them!” Huggins wrote. “There are consequences!”

Woodward also appeared alongside religious extremist Matt Shea on Aug. 20 during a Christian nationalist event in which Shea compared the recent Spokane County fires to same-sex marriage and transgender rights, shortly before Woodward walked onstage.

The Spokesman-Review previously asked Woodward about the “rainbow” rhetoric, and she responded that there was no connection.

“We are seeing more of this type of activity across the city, whether it’s graffiti or the destruction of property. So I wouldn’t connect the two,” Woodward said. She said she also passes by the LGBTQ+ mural on the way to work every day, and she was extremely disappointed to see the defacing of it.

“The unfortunate thing is that we can’t repaint it because of the weather right now. It’s too cold here. So we’re going to have to wait until the spring, but the intention is to repaint it,” Woodward said. “We are better than this, so it’s really disappointing.”

Spokane Police Department said in a Friday afternoon release that no suspects in the string of vandalism have been identified. SPD asks people with information to contact crime check at 509-456-2233.