Last weekend brought the culmination of a month’s worth of parades, rainbow color projections and rainbow flag displays in celebration of Pride Month. This year’s events included special tributes to the Stonewall riots of 1969, which captured national attention as members of the gay community demonstrated against a police raid of gay bar and tavern called the Stonewall Inn in New York City.
For weeks preceding the 50-year anniversary of this historic protest, organizations and communities across the nation, and in Montana, celebrated the progress made for LBGTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) rights – and called attention to how far we still have to go.
Surprisingly, many of Montana’s Republican lawmakers remain ignorant of this important history and ongoing civil rights struggle. As demonstrated in a recent outpouring of criticism against Gov. Steve Bullock for flying a rainbow flag at the state Capitol, they see gay pride as part of a political agenda and object to any suggestion that the entire state of Montana supports it.
Among the cacophony of misplaced criticism, they do make one good point: Montana’s flag should always fly over Montana. It should never be replaced with the flag of any other nation, state or entity.
Instead, our state flag should fly alongside the flag of the United State of America at all times and, at appropriate times, with other flags — and always with pride.
But as Bullock wrote in his response to Speaker of the House Greg Hertz and Senate President Scott Sales, rather than symbolizing any one political view, the rainbow pride flag “actually represents civil rights and social and economic equality for Montanans of the LGBTQ+ community."
Bullock officially requested that the rainbow flag fly during the Big Sky Pride Parade in Helena. As pointed out in previous reports, Montana has long followed the practice of replacing the state flag with others to commemorate special dates. The Irish flag flies at the Capitol on St. Patrick’s Day, the Japanese flag was flown on the 35th anniversary of the day it was established as Montana’s sister-state.
But the pride flag was the only to catch such heated criticism, with Republican Reps. Steve Gunderson of Libby and Derek Skees of Kalispell also voicing objections, as did Roger Koopman (see his guest column on today’s Opinion page).
It is entirely appropriate for Montana to express support for a population of its residents who have faced discrimination and bigotry and who must continue to fight against it. Flying the rainbow pride flag expressed this support, and also provided a learning opportunity for those who claim not to understand what it stands for.
For their information, the original pride flag was designed by an honorably discharged Army veteran and openly gay activist named Gilbert Baker. It first flew at a Gay Freedom Day Parade in 1978, and now is displayed around the world as a symbol, not of any particular political movement, but of general solidarity with the LGBTQ community. It is meant to recognize and uphold their worth as fellow human beings, created equal and endowed with certain unalienable rights, as affirmed by no less an authority than the U.S. Declaration of Independence.
With the end of June, Pride month is over. But the need for education and awareness, obviously, continues.
How should Montana display the rainbow flag in the future?
Montana recently replaced its state flag with the rainbow flag in support of the local Pride parade and the LGBTQ community, a decision that was roundly criticized by several state lawmakers.