Opinion – The Simple Significance of a Flag

With the July 4 holiday, Americans once again commemorate their feelings of pride and patriotism. Red, white and blue will be everywhere, along with the requisite fireworks displays.

After the Sept. 11 tragedy, a few of us working with the group handling Gay Pride that year, Heartland Pride, created a T-shirt with the American flag and a phrase commonly used in World War II: “These colors don’t run.” Michael Burnes, owner of Missie B’s, himself a proud Vietnam veteran, donated $500 to get our project off the ground. We sold the shirts to raise money in honor of Julie Geis, the president of Women With One Voice, a nonprofit agency benefiting women and children in the Kansas City area. Geis died in the south tower of the World Trade Center. Her friends and family in Nebraska and the Kansas City community bought the shirts through e-mail or at bars and other events, and after selling out we gave a $4,000 check to their Julie Geis scholarship fund. It was a patriotic gesture of how the LGBT community once again, like so many of our neighbors throughout the area, gives back when asked.

The rainbow flag represents the international LGBT community. It’s a universal symbol, whether flying from a flagpole at home or on a car bumper decal. In an ugly July 2006 incident in Meade, Kan., two boys cut down the rainbow flag flying outside the Lakeway Hotel B&B. (Read Bradley Osborn’s story from the September 2006 issue of Camp at: http://camp.lgbt/2006/08/15/with-the-cunning-use-of-a-flag.) The owners of the B&B were sent this flag from their 12-year-old son, who bought it as a present for his parents after seeing it at a California fair. The parents said they knew of the flag’s significance to the LGBT community, but decided to fly it in the spirit of unity and friendship. Apparently those who tore it down and those who later threw a brick inked with the word “fag” through the B&B’s window felt otherwise.

On June 21, one week after the national Flag Day holiday, the Employee Resource Group (ERG) at Sprint celebrated “Sprint Pride.” (see story on page 10 and photo on page 13.) One of the comments we heard often from those attending was how proud they felt that Sprint was flying a huge rainbow flag for the first time at the entrance to the Sprint campus, directly underneath the Sprint flag. Not only were the LGBT employees honored, but Nicole Kelley, one of the organizers, told me that she had already heard of at least one straight employee who wrote an e-mail to the human resources department commending Sprint for taking that step in honoring diversity.

A friend of mine who works at GE Money told me that his company also had a large rainbow flag prominently displayed in the front lobby during June to commemorate Gay Pride month and to show respect for their LGBT employees. I saw that flag when delivering copies of the recent issue of Camp to the office, and it indeed was in the center of the lobby, not relegated to some corner.

Many years ago when living in San Francisco, I was attending the Gay Pride parade with a Dutch friend of mine who lived in Amsterdam and was working in the United States for a few years. Marius insisted that we follow the parade to City Hall, the end of the route, where the rainbow flag was flown prominently along with the United States and the State of California flags. It meant so much to him to see this display that it brought him to tears. This was more than 15 years ago, but his comments were about how rare it was to see the flag flown in such prominence in the United States or in Europe.

As Brad Osborn said in his Meade, Kan., story, “Flags are powerful things.” Even something as common as the rainbow flag can bring powerful emotions.

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