Does the gay pride flag have any meaning to you? To many, it shines as a beacon of hope and progress already achieved. To others, it symbolizes what might be possible in the future.
Despite growth and acceptance, to some it remains an unmet goal and a painful reminder that like racial and gender equality, sometimes progress is slow and elusive.
The equality of gay rights became a political issue beginning 50 years ago when the harassment of gays by police burst into the public consciousness with the Stonewall Inn riots in 1969. These past 50 years serve as a reminder of the harsh treatment many in the LGBTQ community have received as they slowly came out of the closet and gained political power and acceptance. Many citizens thought equality was finally woven into our nation’s fabric of settled issues with the election of a black president, followed by the nomination of a female for president, along with June being proclaimed as Pride Month in several jurisdictions.
But the past three years — with Charlottesville and some states trying to undermine women’s health options and abortion rights — have told us that we as a nation are still far apart on equality.
In deep blue Seattle, recognition of gay pride has been in place for several years, and the annual parade is something few politicians of either stripe would ever miss. Suburban King County has slowly turned blue, but many cities and their elected officials have only recently started to display the multicolored Pride flag and formally acknowledge their equality,while a small number have looked for political cover in non-controversial proclamations alone.
For some religious conservatives, recognition of gays is something they simply can’t accept, and high-profile challenges such as refusing to make a gay couple’s wedding cake serve as a reminder of both the law and division.
But there is also recognition that progress is being made. South Bend,Indiana, used to be best known as the home of the University of Notre Dame and its football team. Now it basks in the national glow of Mayor Pete Buttigieg as a legitimate candidate for president. His intellect, and the human manner in which he tells his story as a gay man, overshadows the small size of his city.
With the springboard of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riot, along with an aggressive push by the LGBTQ community seeking City Hall recognition by asking that the multicolored Pride flag be flown along with national, state and city flags, many cities have embraced the dialogue on why equality for all means all. But each city has responded differently — most with openness, support and understanding of what the LGBTQ community has been through. A few cities have responded with caution as they assess political implications of any action. Not all cities were asked to fly the flag.
For some, the decisions to fly the flag have been colored by the form of government in the different jurisdictions.
In council-manager cities such as Kirkland, Mercer Island and Burien, the councils passed resolutions or proclamations supporting June as Pride month. Burien had two Pride events. In Kirkland, the city has flown the Pride flag in previous years and this year added the Pride flag in Marina Park. They also have a resolution that Kirkland is a safe, welcoming and inclusive city, and the mayor and deputy mayor meet with city management staff to ensure compliance with the resolution. Covington is one local city that did not get a request to fly the Pride flag.
In strong mayor jurisdictions where the mayor is separately elected and has control of all city property, the mayor can make the decision on their own. But there were some local differences. Kent did not receive a request to fly the Pride flag. In Auburn, Redmond, Renton and Federal Way, there was some concern from city attorneys about setting a precedent that might require the city to allow a flag that did not reflect community values. However, Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus commented that city attorneys will always err on the side of conservatism, and the request came too late to get a flag. She is willing to take the risk to demonstrate her city’s commitment to inclusion and will have a flag next year.
In Redmond, a council member requested the flag be flown and Mayor John Marchione agreed to the city’s first such event, and also included a proclamation. Renton also displayed the Pride flag for the first time.
Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell denied a request to fly the Pride flag based on the legal concern that flying it would commit the city to allow other flags. Ferrell and the council did support a proclamation. However, with several other cities honoring the LGBTQ by flying the flag, which city was making a political statement: The cities that flew the flag or the ones that didn’t?
Ferrell has the same latitude as Backus and could take the risk, or he could follow the lead of other cities and ask the council to pass a resolution describing the community values that would have to be met to fly any flag, including the Pride flag. That would provide both legal and political cover.
Most city officials said there was rarely any pushback from the community, but some letters to the editor, Facebook and website postings along with a demonstration at a Renton library opposing a drag queen reading a children’s book signaled that the equality sought by the LGBTQ community may not be shared by all community members yet, despite 50 years in the making.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.