Is There a Place for Rainbow Crosswalks on Our Streets?

This interesting article by Igor Radun illustrates one of the entertaining parts of Finnish social culture. Finns do not worry too much about Trump, Covid19, Climate Change, Russian & Chinese cyber hacking, and human trafficking, but when somebody does something that contravenes an administrative law or regulation all hell breaks loose! Professors wake up from their ivory towers, concerned senior citizens start bombing the Attorney General with complaints and the True Finns huff and puff about LGBT and Immigrants. This is a true story, and even the police got involved, which they do not if you get your bike stolen!

Mr. Radun has left some original Finnish language in the text to see if that rattles some protester’s cage…

Is There a Place for Rainbow Crosswalks on Our Streets?

By Igor Radun

In the last 3 days, there was so much discussion (read: craziness) about Turku’s rainbow crosswalk – it is outside the City Theatre. The City of Turku and the City Theatre decided to paint one pedestrian crossing in rainbow colors in order to raise equality and tolerance awareness during the Pride month (i.e., June). The main discussion in media and especially in social media focused on whether the modifications were done according to the law. As expected, there were many idiotic, silly, and discriminatory comments directed to LGBT population and certain political parties. I have joined these discussions mainly because I had previously written about the introduction of gender-neutral traffic signs in Finland. My view is that the question surrounding the rainbow crosswalk is not only about the traffic law; there are several other important issues.

  1. Are these rainbow colors in line with the traffic law?

According to the police, the color modifications of the crosswalk were not made according to the specifications outlined in the Road Traffic Act. Professor Matti Tolvanen also agreed as reported by Iltalehti. Kimmo Kiiski, one of the main creators of the new Road Traffic Act, wrote on Twitter “The matter will be resolved when the administrative decision made by the police is possibly assessed in court” [Asia ratkeaa kun poliisin tekemää hallintopäätöstä mahdollisesti arvioidaan tuomioistuimessa]. Some have suggested that the rainbow crossing might become acceptable if every second stripe is painted now in white. Professor Matti Tolvanen said “If there are white lines on the crosswalk, I don’t think it matters what’s between the white lines. After all, it still has asphalt and the asphalt can be red or black. It’s compliant with the Road Traffic Act if it has white stripes.” [Jos suojatiessä on valkoiset viivat, ei ole käsittääkseni merkitystä, mitä valkoisten viivojen välissä on. Onhan siinä nytkin asfalttia ja asfaltti voi olla punaista tai mustaa. Se on tieliikennelain mukainen, jos siinä on valkoinen juovitus.]

  1. Can traffic signs be used to communicate other than traffic-law messages?

Here is the question whether traffic signs can be modified/adapted in such a way that they communicate other than traffic-related message they are designed for. Can a particular city, for example, put “to children abuse” in the close proximity of a STOP sign? I am sure only a small minority of Finns would disagree with the message “Stop to children abuse.” Who and in what circumstances can adapt and modify traffic signs to communicate human rights or any other message? I have not received a clear answer to my question, but Kimmo Kiiski wrote this on Twitter “One can, of course, ask here why there are no advertisements on the road surface or why advertising along roads and streets is limited. There are even international treaty provisions on the matter.” [Voi tietysti kysyä tässä, että miksi tien pinnassa ei ole mainoksia tai miksi mainostaminen teiden ja katujen varsilla on rajoitettua. Asiasta on myös jopa kv sopimusmääräyksiä.]

  1. Gender-specific traffic signs are not OK, but modifying a traffic sign to promote LGBT rights is OK?

I have previously written about the recent change of the Road Traffic Act that made traffic signs gender neutral. At least most of them, as the only traffic sign that actually had a gender stereotype has remained the same. It is G20 Recreational area [Ulkoilualue]. In that traffic sign, males (fathers) are depicted as physically stronger carrying stuff, while females (mothers) are “naturally” taking care of kids:

It is somewhat inconsistent if gender-specific signs are for some reason seen as problematic and needed to be changed while, on the other hand, illegally modifying a crosswalk to promote LGBT rights is acceptable. If traffic signs should be free of genders and gender roles, shouldn’t they also be free of messages promoting rights of sexual minorities?

  1. A good cause does not always justify the means.

Apparently, officials from the city of Turku had not consulted police before deciding to paint the crosswalk in rainbow colors. This can indeed be only the result of a poor judgment; however, I have some doubts about it. In my view, there is a growing number of people who believe that a good cause justifies the means. If you want to promote noble goals such as equality and tolerance, do you really need to think whether your actions follow good practices or the law? I have written many times on my blog about this license-to-do-whatever if you believe you are right in the context of scientific research in general and peer-review in particular. In my view, this is something for what we can somewhat blame Tony Blair who re-invented Machiavellianism. According to Blair, you can start whatever war if you feel you have morality on your side. And of course, you define what constitutes morality. Moral superiority gives you a license to do whatever you like. No state or international laws, no rules, no established procedures, nothing will stop you… because you feel you are morally right.

In conclusions, the case of Turku’s rainbow crosswalk has not brought the society more together about such important issues of LGBT rights, equality and tolerance; it only sparked a new round of endless and useless discussions. If you really want to change something, do it properly.

Written by Igor Radun, PhD, Docent, Department of Psychology and Logopedics, University of Helsinki, Finland


researchgate profile:


The photo is from the City Theatre of Turku – an interesting theatre to visit but most productions are in Finnish, so you must do some language homework beforehand –

Site Footer