We’ll keep the Pride flag flying here

I wasn’t aware until recently that Target had an LGBTQ-themed section to commemorate Pride Month, which began on June 1. Why shouldn’t it? We have months that celebrate Black history, Hispanic heritage, Arab heritage, Jewish American Heritage, and Women’s history. We celebrate cultures that were not always respected or given their due, and in many cases still aren’t.

The rainbow flag seems to wave in one variation or another wherever people take pride in celebrating those who are the target of sweeping naked discriminatory legislation across the country.

Post-racial fantasies aside, there’s still plenty of discrimination against minorities—if anything, it’s on a sharp rise, with Black Americans, Asians, and Jews at the top of the target list—but it often requires a whole set of coded signs and the scabby language of dog whistles, at least in the workplace, in schools, in public places. Except, of course, when the target is LGBTQ people. It’s open season on them everywhere, starting with schools.

As of this writing, nearly 500 bills have been introduced or passed this year alone, 10 of them in Florida. Last year, it was 180 bills.

Pride month merchandise is displayed at the front of a Target store in Hackensack, N.J. Violent right-wing customers have destroyed store displays and threatened workers. | Seth Wenig / AP

This is what we’re doing to a group of people that should be the poster child for civil liberties and human rights.

LGBTQ culture—as opposite to cancel culture as it gets—is boundlessly diverse. The acronym seems to add a letter every year. In Canada, the acronym is at risk of breaking anti-sprawl ordinances. It now refers to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Pansexual, Two-Spirited (2S), and Asexual—LGBTQQIP2SA. If you wonder what two-spirited means, just remember Little Horse, the “boy who didn’t want to fight the Pawnee” in Little Big Man, back when the United States could muster a little tolerance from mayhem.

The acronym reflects the immense variations implied by the freedom of sexual orientation. I hesitate to call it a single community. There are no such monoliths, least of all in the LGBTQ world. It is just as diverse ethnically, racially, and religiously. In a sense, you cannot possibly get more diverse than under the big LGBTQ tent. That’s the symbolism behind the Pride flag.

Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California, had asked artist Gilbert Baker to design a flag to represent all that wonderful synonym for American freedom. He came up with the rainbow flag, its stripes a more colorful echo of the stars and stripes, a more achieved version of the United States. It was first flown at the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade in June 1978.

Five months later, Dan White walked into Harvey Milk’s office and assassinated him right after killing Mayor George Moscone. At his trial, White’s lawyer described him as “deeply endowed…in the traditional American values.” Witnesses described him as a paragon of virtue, press reports referred to him as an “all-American boy,” and his defense claimed he was hopped up on junk food so couldn’t be blamed for gunning down a mayor and a queer.

The whitewashing worked. Instead of getting convicted of first-degree murder, White’s “Twinkie defense” got him only a manslaughter conviction; he served just five years. When he killed himself in 1985, his lawyer, Douglas Schmidt, still called him the “third victim.” And we wonder why Alex Jones has a following.

The rainbow flag flew at Milk’s funeral and has been flying since, though these days it seems to take an Iwo Jima or two to keep it afloat. If you think I’m exaggerating, consider that between violence against LGBTQ people and the suicide rate in that group, especially among youths, the 7,000 dead of Iwo Jima may be more of an understated parallel than you realize.

A woman named Marlene holds a sign as she protests outside of a Target store, June 1, 2023, in Miami. Target removed products and relocated Pride displays to the back of certain stores in the South, the latest corporation to cave to anti-LGBTQ hate groups and religious bigots. | Lynne Sladky / AP

And these Americans aren’t dying on an atoll in the far-flung Pacific. They’re your neighbors. You see through them in church. You degrade them in such easy little taps as you feed your social media bile from your phone.

Getting back to Target: I stopped in to buy myself a rainbow-themed pair of socks. Instead, I found the LGBTQ display relegated to a dimly lit back alley in the store, the way old video stores used to dissimulate their porn collection. This was the result of anti-LGBTQ bigots confronting Target employees and vandalizing displays that had been more prominently placed.

You can’t really blame Target for protecting its employees, but it’s not as if the company can’t afford security. It has a full-on guard at several stores.

The company is patting itself on the back for not banning the displays. But this Pride Month, there’s not much to be proud of in people who to this day would rather burn than raise the Pride flag. It’s about time it replaced all those MIA flags in school yards and at courthouses. LGBTQ victims, unlike the mythical missing, are real, and they’re piling up.

This is an abridged version of an article that earlier appeared at CommonDreams and FlaglerLive.com.

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Pierre Tristam
Pierre Tristam

Pierre Tristam is a journalist, writer, editor, and lecturer. He is currently the editor and publisher of FlaglerLive.com, a non-profit news site in Florida. A native of Beirut, Lebanon, he became an American citizen in 1986.