New Traffic Lights to Show Solidarity

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FLENSBURG- Traffic Lights, especially in the sense of pedestrian signal lights, are one of the key elements one will find in Germany. Especially in the eastern half of Germany, where traffic lights resembling a man in the hat walking (when green) and halting (when red),  that tradition can be found in almost every city and community. And even in cities, like Erfurt, Dresden, Leipzig and Berlin, designers have come up with their own concoction to amuse the pedestrians and bikers having to wait for cars to pass. Thanks to its 55+ year history, the pedestrian figure has become a household name, that cities in the western half are replacing their “Denkmal” style standardized lights. Even a shop in Weimar and Berlin sell these “Ampelmännchen” as merchandise.

This trend is also happening in Flensburg but in a rather unique fashion.

Just recently, city officials replaced their “Denkmal” lights with those representing a unique form of solidarity- that of two figures of the same sex.  When walking along Holm to the intersection with Große Strasse (Rathausstrasse), one will find two homosexual couples holding hands with a heart above it. Red represents the lesbians stopping for traffic, green represents the gay men walking across. An interesting design that has caught the attention of several pedestrians and bikers, young and old alike.

But why such a light?

In connection with the International Day against Homophobia, city officials and organizations representing homosexuals are making a statement in showing solidarity for the same-sex couples who are often discriminated based on their sexual preferences. In the United States alone, according to statistics by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 20% of crimes that occurred in 2013 had been motivated by sexual preferences and that homosexual couples are twice as likely to be attacked than people of different color or religion. The massacre at a homosexual disco hall in Orlando, Florida in June of last year, where 51 people were killed, brought the issue of discrimination of homosexuals to the forefront. Especially during the Presidential race in 2016, vulgar language against homosexuals were used by Donald Trump, which provided more fuel for the hate machine.

But in Flensburg, one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Germany with 110,000 people, the largest Danish minority in the country and one of the largest number of refugees as well, people are making a statement. “The traffic light is a persistent symbol for respect we demand,” says Simone Lange, mayor of Flensburg. She pointed out that the crime rate against homosexuals has quadrupled over the last year. In an interview with the Flensburg Tagesblatt, “It is more serious than we think and people really need to talk about this.”

One of the people spearheading the efforts is Nicolas Jähring, who is chair of the organization Schwusos and one of the members of the German Social Democrats representing the city. His advocacy for having the traffic lights installed in the city center was met with failure last year, only to have it approved by the state ministry of transportation this year under special circumstances. To him, it is a symbol but there is more meaning to it. “It fosters reflexion and we would welcome people who accept this.”

Flensburg is the third German city to have at least one homosexual traffic light in operation. Hamburg has had them since 2015, and Munich only temporary for the Christopher Street Day celebrations. Yet its forefather is in Vienna, where since its introduction, the number of homosexual traffic lights are blooming.  While it is unlikely that more traffic lights like this one will pop up in the rest of Flensburg, it will indeed serve as a symbol of solidarity for couples who choose the non-conventional form of relationships. Even if many people consider this permanent installment just a traffic light, it will serve as an example for other cities to follow- not just in Berlin, Leipzig, Frankfurt or even Dresden, but also in cities in the United States, where support for homosexual couples are at an all time high, despite attempts by the current Trump administration, as well as fundamental evangelicals and hate groups to either cleanse them of “their unnatural behavior” or eliminate them altogether.

It is hoped that it is not the case, and people are taking this seriously, as we see in the interview conducted by the Danish newspaper Flensborg Avis.

 

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Depiction of what the lights look like, courtesy of Inga Jablonsky.

 

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End of the Line: Donald Sterling

There is an old saying that my former high school math teacher told me once: “Your mouth and your actions determines your destiny.”  Sometimes when a person takes actions, both verbally and physically, that are against the will of others, and does it for a long period of time, eventually it comes back to haunt him.  Donald Sterling, the now-former owner of the American basketball team the Los Angeles Clippers is one of those who took his actions to the limits, and is now receiving the receipt.  After a taped conversation where he told his girlfriend not to post photos of her and some African Americans on Instagram and allow them to attend basketball games, it was the last drop in the already-filled coffee cup that finally spilled over.  David Stern, former commissioner of the basketball league NBA, had watched Sterling discriminate people of color and background for years, since purchasing the Clippers in 1981. He had also watched Sterling turn the team into a laughing stock of professional sports during the 1980s and 90s before finally having its first winning season and playoff appearance in the 1991/92 and later from the 2005/06 season onwards. Yet he ignored Sterling’s racial behavior and turned a blind eye, all the way up to his retirement at the end of last year.  Adam Silver took over the reigns and did things totally differently, as you can see in the video clip below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1w_AB_YJA08

Sterling’s latest racist remarks recorded on audio were his last. He’s now facing a lifetime ban, the loss of his franchise, and the loss of his face.  A punishment that is so severe- one of the worst ever on record- but one that was long overdue. Discrimination has no place in society, yet there are people out there who strive for perfection at any cost, which includes selecting people based on certain figures. Yet as we strive for inclusion of people of different backgrounds and interest in society- sports teams, clubs, businesses (including boards), educational institutions, and the like, we also know about the people who still segregate others as they see fit and have been trying our best to force them aside.  Rumors had it that many Americans were not ready for an African American President in 2008. Even one of my students at a Bavarian university I taught at that time, had experienced that sentimental feeling while staying abroad as an exchange student in the Midwest. We still have him as President, and he has been doing a great job in office, in spite of the circumstances that he faced when he won the elections. Many Americans in the 1940s and 50s thought that by integrating Native Americans into a White society, they would be free of their ways. Their ways of life still exist in culture and language, and have been highly regarded by many Americans today and tourists alike. Sterling’s institutional racism may have been deemed as normal to him and his closest, but to his players and the league, it was more than preposterous- it was barbaric and has stained America’s image as a multi-cultural country, where people have the right to be free and live their dream while living in harmony, regardless of background. His ban from professional basketball may not solve all problems with racism, but it is a big step in the right direction, a step towards the multi-cultural America that should be what it is today.

To close my End of the Line Commentary about this man, there is a proverb that should be considered: Perfection leads to Loneliness whereas Imperfection leads to Multiculturalism. There is no such thing as Segregation and Utopia. Not in today’s society, and not in light of a multicultural society that we have become globally. I’m hoping Sterling will think long and hard of his actions to his team, the league and America. But I’m also hoping that after the ruling, people will finally reconcile and come together, as there is a lot to do, and we need everybody and their different traits to help get it done.