With the Anaheim council set to vote Tuesday on flying the rainbow LGBT pride flag, it’s worth sorting through the complexities of such a decision, what it means, what messages it sends.
For some, it’s no big deal. But for many — regardless of gender or sexual orientation — it’s a very big deal. Some hate the idea, others advocate.
What do we do if, say, white supremacists want to hoist a Nazi symbol? Or a pirate group wants to fly the Jolly Roger? And what about other disenfranchised groups?
Let’s agree flags aren’t just fabric and color. They often are serious symbols and much blood has been spilled defending flags, tearing them down, putting them up.
Before we hear from a variety of voices, let’s review some specifics.
We know that the rainbow flag stands for gay pride. But did you know that each color stands for something?
The current six-color version is red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, blue for harmony, purple for spirit.
San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk called for a gay pride flag in the mid-1970s. The original flag flew June 25, 1978, in the city’s Gay Freedom Day Parade. Milk was killed a few months later and the symbol caught fire.
In the wake of the June 12, 2016, slaughter of 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Anaheim council flew the rainbow flag in front of city hall but quickly realized it was in violation of its own ordinance. For the next two years, council instead went with a banner hanging from the side of the building.
Last month, council preliminarily approved an ordinance to fly the flag on a city flagpole from May 22 (Harvey Milk Day) through the end of June, LGBT Pride Month. Tuesday’s vote could seal the deal.
I found council’s direction troubling. So I decided to talk to a diversity of people to learn. A Latino perspective
I started by contacting Anaheim Councilman Jose Moreno who voted in December to approve the ordinance.
His vote surprised me because I figured this was a man who would be more focused on having Anaheim fly a flag representing the thousands of people with Mexican heritage in his city.
Understand, Moreno also is president of the long-standing human rights group Los Amigos of Orange County, as well as an associate professor of Chicano and Latino studies at California State University, Long Beach.
I figured wrong — for a lot of reasons.
“It can be seemingly unfair at face value,” Moreno allowed, a case of, “If we do it for you we have to do it for everybody.” But, the elected official explained, the issue is far more nuanced.
Flying the LGBT pride flag means, Moreno said, that we support helping all disadvantaged and struggling people out of a closet. “The reason we have this symbol is to remind ourselves about a past that we should not repeat.”
With a deep background in cultural movements, Moreno went on to point out that different cultures use different means to express identity. Some cultures use poetry, others songs.
“Our city has passed resolutions honoring the plight of farmworkers on Cesar Chavez Day, just as it has honored Dr. Martin Luther King Day. Different communities present themselves in different ways.
“For me, the LGBT flag is our way of saying we are proud to be inclusive of all communities.” A senior perspective
Among others, I talked to Lisa Wright Jenkins, president and CEO of the Council on Aging, an organization the serves seniors in Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Inyo and Mono counties.
“It’s important that we figure out how to be more accepting,” Wright offered about supporting Anaheim’s vote. “Love comes in a variety of forms.”
As we talked, Wright pointed out that LGBT issues affect all communities, all ethnicities, rich and poor, able-bodied and challenged. “The whole topic of LGBTQ crosses all, whether they’re Asian or aging.”
Jenkins went so far as to allow, “Some of our ombudsmen work with long-term care facilities that are less accepting of the gay community than others.”
The Rev. Mark Whitlock is head pastor at Christ Our Redeemer in Irvine, a church that is part of of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. He also is a man who understands the power of flags.
“The Confederate flag,” Whitlock reminded, “was a symbol of oppression — financially, emotionally, racially.
“Within a Christian context,” Whitlock offered, “there is a rainbow of God’s creations and it’s antithetical to hate gays.
Whitlock also stressed the importance of connecting with a wide diversity of people. “The true Christian struggle,” he said, “is getting to know the unknown. We are haters of the unknown.
“Jesus said we ought to love our neighbor. We must end ‘otherizing’ people and start unifying people.”
The deeper I explored, the more people I talked to, the more I found that other human rights believers agree the rainbow flag isn’t just a statement for gay rights. It’s a declaration for human rights.
But what would a long-time LGBT activist say?
Peg Corley is the executive director at LGBT Center OC, a nonprofit serving the lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual and queer/questioning communities. She started serving on the board two decades ago and also happens to be president of the board for Westerly School of Long Beach, an independent, co-ed K-8 school.
With the current battle for allowing transgender people into the military, these are not the easiest of times for the LGBT community — and many other communities.
“Flying this flag is a great start,” Corley said. “The current administration has emboldened people to hate other people and that is easily done when you don’t have to see those people.
“When you’re faced with someone — whether they are LGBTQ or African-American or Jewish — it’s harder to conjure up hate and you find you have things in common.”
Corley, too, concluded that the rainbow flag doesn’t just speak for the LGBTQ community. “It’s not just a gay thing. It’s a diversity issue.”
Just as it’s worth knowing about the LGBT flag, it’s worth being reminded what the colors of the American flag stand for — something most of us have long forgotten.
The Stars and Stripes include white for purity and innocence, red for hardiness and valor, blue for vigilance, perseverance and justice.
Those are wonderful and important values. And so is tolerance and acceptance.
Moreno shared a little story. When gay marriage was finally approved in California on June 28, 2013, the professor took his two girls to the Old County Courthouse in Santa Ana to watch the first ceremony.
He didn’t know that five years later he’d be voting on flying the rainbow flag at City Hall. But dad knew he wanted his girls, one in elementary school, the other in middle school, “to see that love is love.”
As his girls watched the ceremony, dad explained that no matter someone’s orientation, gender, age or ethnicity, “Love is something we all should honor.”