When I put an LGBTQ rainbow Pride flag outside my Washington office in March 2015, it was to little fanfare. I also display one outside my office in San Diego.
San Diego has a large and vibrant LGBTQ population, and the rainbow flag outside my office is a source of pride for my constituents and me. It only made sense to display it. It is a symbol of our commitment to full equality.
One can understand my dismay and disappointment when I was slapped with a lawsuit last week for flying the Pride flag. The lawsuit seeks to force the removal of the rainbow flag.
Two flags are always present outside the Capitol offices of representatives — the American flag and a state flag. There is a third flag holder for a member to display a flag of their choosing. Some fly the POW/MIA flag. Other members will display the flag of their alma mater. It is up to the discretion of the member.
Three of my colleagues in the House of Representatives — Reps. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), and Don Beyer (D-Va.) – were also named in the complaint.
It was especially offensive to see this type of hateful legal action right after San Diego celebrated Pride with a record-high turnout. More than 200,000 people from all generations and all backgrounds came together as a family to express our pride.
It was at a Pride festival in San Francisco where the rainbow flag — created by activist and artist Gilbert Baker, who called himself the Gay Betsy Ross — was first raised in 1978.
Having just bought a sewing machine because glam rock was the rage and he simply needed to dress as David Bowie, Gilbert was always being asked to make banners for demonstrations and parades. Gilbert and other activists were looking to replace the pink triangle, which had Nazi origins, as their symbol. Although some activists were trying to take it back and turn it into a positive symbol, Baker thought they needed something that didn’t come with that history.
That’s when Gilbert came up with the rainbow. To him, it not only symbolized the LGBTQ community but also the diversity within the community.
It was another symbol of freedom that Gilbert says he took inspiration from — the stars and stripes. It was around the time of our bicentennial and he was seeing the American flag flying everywhere.
Almost 40 years later, the rainbow flag has witnessed so much progress in the fight for full equality. I have been honored to be a part of that progress.
As a school board member in San Diego in the ‘80s, I opposed efforts to segregate students with AIDS into separate classrooms.
As chair of the Personnel Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, I reopened the discussion of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. I chaired the first hearing held on the discriminatory policy since it was implemented in 1993.
Two years later, I was proud to stand next to President Barack Obama as he signed a full repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Gays and lesbians could now openly serve their country.
Just last year, I joined in the emotional celebration in front of the Supreme Court after it was announced that marriage equality was the law of the land.
Amidst that celebration was the rainbow flag flying proudly.
And yet the struggle continues. Discrimination still exists and, as we have seen with this lawsuit, the forces opposing equality are not likely to go away.
It is disheartening that this is still an issue. The lawsuit certainly shows that we still have a way to go before we reach full equality. At the same time, this incident also has shown how far we have come.
After the complaint was made public, the outpouring of support for flying the flag has been overwhelming — coming from Democrats and Republicans alike!
In fact, other representatives are planning to add the LGBTQ rainbow Pride flag outside their congressional offices.
While this complaint is an attempt to re-litigate the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage, be assured that hateful lawsuits such as this are not going to stop the march toward equality and the celebration of diversity.
Sadly, Gilbert died in March of this year. But his creation and symbol of equality, acceptance, and diversity will live on. As the struggle continues, that colorful banner shall wave.
This editorial first appeared in Comsopolitan.com