Whither the pride flag?
And lo, I have returned from my family’s sojourn to the West Coast.
Traveling with two small children is, it turns out, a different experience from traveling without kiddos in tow. I will admit that I approached our journey with a certain amount of trepidation, and am happy to report that Critter and Squirrel handled being schlepped from plane to plane and city to city quite well, with allowances made for lack of structure and altered sleep schedules and such. We had a great time, much of which we spent with friends and family. Plus, the trip afforded me the opportunity to fly Virgin America, visit the San Diego zoo, sample St. George Spirits’ Terroir Gin, have breakfast at Serious Biscuit and finish “Wolf Hall,” all of which are experiences I would endorse.
During the San Diego leg of our travels we stayed near a very good friend. As it happens, she lives in the Hillcrest neighborhood, which is the city’s gay area. Driving to our temporary quarters, I was struck by the profusion of pride flags. Block after block I kept seeing them in apartment windows or hanging in front of shops.
I found myself wondering why.
For my part, I’ve never really been one to fly a rainbow flag. I had a decal on my car for a short period immediately after I came out, when it felt super important to let the whole world know I was gay and happy about it. (Ye gods, that was exactly half my lifetime ago. I think I need to go lie down.) But the need to make such a proclamation faded pretty quickly and hasn’t recurred.
When I mentioned the plethora of pride flags to our friend, she speculated that a lot of them were probably just left over from the recent Pride Festival. However, many of them stay up all year round. And I wondered at the time what the point of displaying them was, particularly in a state that has joined the growing list with marriage equality.
[Brief aside — it occurred to me midway through our trip that we were traveling exclusively in states where our shiny-new marriage was legally recognized. While this was not by design, it was nonetheless a wonderful feeling. It was the safest I’ve ever felt traveling with the Better Half.]
I hasten to clarify that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with flying a pride flag. I would never tell anyone not to, nor would I think any less of someone who did. But it struck me as wholly unnecessary, particularly in a neighborhood where scads of gay people live and work already. Signaling for its own sake, especially when everyone around you is flashing the same signal, seems superfluous to me.
I have since reconsidered by earlier skepticism for two reasons.
The first is Russia. More specifically, a passel of horrifying new anti-LGBT laws in that country. As Harvey Fierstein details:
On July 3, [Vladimir] Putin signed a law banning the adoption of Russian-born children not only to gay couples but also to any couple or single parent living in any country where marriage equality exists in any form.
A few days earlier, just six months before Russia hosts the 2014 Winter Games, Mr. Putin signed a law allowing police officers to arrest tourists and foreign nationals they suspect of being homosexual, lesbian or “pro-gay” and detain them for up to 14 days. Contrary to what the International Olympic Committee says, the law could mean that any Olympic athlete, trainer, reporter, family member or fan who is gay — or suspected of being gay, or just accused of being gay — can go to jail.
Earlier in June, Mr. Putin signed yet another antigay bill, classifying “homosexual propaganda” as pornography. The law is broad and vague, so that any teacher who tells students that homosexuality is not evil, any parents who tell their child that homosexuality is normal, or anyone who makes pro-gay statements deemed accessible to someone underage is now subject to arrest and fines. Even a judge, lawyer or lawmaker cannot publicly argue for tolerance without the threat of punishment.
Knowing that our quondam Cold War rival has made display of such flags illegal suddenly gives new reason to celebrate the freedom to wave them. While it doesn’t do a fat lot of good for the people living under Third Reich-style laws in Saint Petersburg, there is something to be said for celebrating the right to live without fear here. Really, it’s not so much pride in being gay as pride in our country, which increasingly lets us live as equal citizens.
The second reason has to do with a recent attack in New York City:
The NYPD is hunting a gang of six men after they allegedly attacked a gay couple outside a movie theater in Chelsea. The couple was holding hands on 24th street in Manhattan when they were approached by two young men yelling anti-gay slurs. Four others quickly appeared and began beating the couple with brass knuckles. The gay couple spent the night in the emergency room, one of them requiring seven stitches on his face. The NYPD is investigating the attack as a hate crime.
Obviously having a bunch of pride flags on display doesn’t protect people from anti-gay violence. (It doesn’t get much gayer than Chelsea.) One might even argue that it serves to attract people who are bent on perpetrating that kind of violence. But I can see the value in communicating both to other gays and lesbians and to the outside community that where one lives is welcoming to LGBT people and takes their welfare seriously. Safety in numbers may not be perfect, it’s not nothing either.
I doubt I will ever go back to wanting to put a rainbow sticker on my car, and I’m not inclined to fly a similar flag outside my house. In the unlikely event I ever move to West Hollywood, I doubt I’d change my mind. But the world has served to remind me why some other people might feel differently. And I’m glad to live in a society where such displays are less and less likely to draw much attention.
We’re here. We’re queer. And we’re glad you’ve gotten used to it.