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The Soiling of the Pride Flag: A Reflection by Rev. Roland Stringfellow

A photograph was snapped just at the right moment by Stanley Foreman in 1976 as he was covering racial tensions of the busing desegregating in Boston. A white man using the American flag as a spear lunged towards a black man dressed in a 3-piece suit. Foreman entitled his photograph The Soiling of Old Glory for the Boston Herald, which became an iconic image of the racial tension in America.

Flags are important symbols that create solidarity among people of a common cause or idea. They are a tangible way to show pride or identity. Flags can also be used to show division, “get behind it or suffer the consequences,” as on that day in Boston in 1975 or at the Nation’s capital on January 6, 2021. Flags are powerful symbols used to show the strength of an establishment, whether it is a nation, a city, a corporation, or a marginalized community. When pride flags that represent the strength of the LGBTQ+ community are banned from flying, we know it is just another way of marginalizing and silencing a people who are targets for ostracization.

In my state of Michigan, adjacent to my home in Detroit is the City of Hamtramck. During Pride Month 2023, the Hamtramck City Council unanimously voted to approve a resolution that restricts the city from flying any “religious, ethnic, racial, political, or sexual orientation group flags” on public grounds. It is not lost on the LGBTQ+ community this resolution came at the time that many surrounding cities and communities chose to fly the pride flag. This City Council may think they are hiding behind its list of prohibited categories, but the LGBTQ+ community knows this act was aimed at them.

Hamtramck is not alone with its ban on the Pride flag and symbols. It seems daily to hear of another city or state with a “Don’t Say Gay” bill or legislation targeting the transgender community from using public accommodations. America has been here before, using legislation to make sure marginalized people “know their place,” whether it is a placard telling someone to “Go back to Africa,” or “God Hates Fags.” Refusing to display the pride flag during Pride month is a clear message that a city does not welcome members of the LGBTQ+ community, and adds to the hostility members already receive from many parents, priests, pastors, and politicians.

It is not lost on me that those prohibited categories Hamtramck lists in their resolution represent groups of people who have been victims of persecution based on their identity. When a persecuted person sees a flag that represents them and their struggle, it communicates acceptance, understanding, and welcome. When measures are taken to communicate ostracization masquerading as equity, there is no other way to take it, but as an insult and hostility. I call it the soiling of the Pride flag in 2023.  The Hamtramck City Council, as well as other legislators, believe they can hide their homophobia and transphobia behind their resolutions, but they are the ones who are standing in the way of progress.

In every revolution, a flag is used to encourage to keep fighting until the victory is won. A person’s pride can never be soiled. The suppression of pride flags only serves to encourage people to continue to fight for the welcome and inclusion of LGBTQ+ people in public spaces. Victory will be won when the diversity represented by the rainbow flag is realized.

 

Rev. Dr. Roland Stringfellow is the Managing Director of the Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion (CLGS) and has been with the Center since 2008. He is also a PSR alumnx graduating with a Master of Divinity in 2006 and a Doctor of Ministry in 2016. Stringfellow is licensed with the Metropolitan Community Church and currently is the Senior Pastor of Metropolitan Community Church Detroit. Roland coordinates the African American Roundtable for CLGS and hosts the Souls A’Fire Conference: A national gathering on Black Queer Theology.
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