Last year the city established a new tradition: officially celebrating June as Pride Month.
Pride Month means different things to different people, ranging from a statement of “we support each other in our lifestyle choices and want everyone treated respectfully, and equally before the law” to darker opinions.
Me, I’m in the former camp. How someone chooses to define and express their gender identity, even if they do so in a radically different way from the way I do, or from the societal norm, they are entitled to respect and equal treatment.
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic the city has chosen to celebrate Pride Month differently this year, with a simple flag-raising ceremony to which a small number of people and local dignitaries were invited.
And that causes a problem for me. Which I’m writing this article to explain.
The emergency county health regulations still ban assemblies of unrelated1 individuals even if they practice social distancing guidelines. There are exceptions — for recreation, etc. — but none of them apply to a flag-raising event sponsored by a public agency. I confirmed this with the attorneys who wrote the regulations.
City staff argues the flag-raising ceremony is an Essential Government Function which is allowed under the regulations. But I think that’s an unsupportable argument. The city can continue to fulfill all its necessary public functions without raising a flag. Flag-raising is certainly an official act of the city, and such celebrations are also certainly customary. But “official” and “customary” are not the same as “essential”.
In fact, it’s the official nature of the event which causes me the most concern.
Upholding the rule of law is essential to the health and well-being of society2. Yet we all break laws. Whether it’s driving over the speed limit, taking a somewhat-arguable deduction on our taxes or rolling through that stop sign when no one and no vehicle is around, that’s part of our system of governance, too.
But it’s very different, in my mind, when a public agency does it. People who live in glass houses have to be extra careful about throwing stones. When public agencies don’t follow a clearly-defined law it’s a lot more impactful than you or me as individuals driving a bit over the speed limit.
Such actions, even when done for a noble purpose — and celebrating the inclusivity of our community and acknowledging the hurts our fellow LGBTQ+ residents unfortunately still experience is most definitely a noble purpose — can also serve to undermine the very point we’re trying to make with the celebration. I can just hear the cries coming from opponents of LGBTQ+ rights claiming “You won’t let us go back to work but you’re happy to violate the law when it supports your liberal causes!”. And you know what? They’d have a point.
There are many ways we could’ve avoided this situation. Celebrating Pride Month in a different month this year, after the assembly restrictions are relaxed some more. Or holding a virtual ceremony — say, with one flag raiser being broadcast online to anyone who wanted to tune in — which would allow for the speeches and commemorations these events should include. Or something else.
I suggested that second idea several weeks ago when I first heard3 we were going to hold a public ceremony. I don’t know why it, or something else, wasn’t pursued.
So even though it pains me — and it does, because I stand with the LGBTQ+ members of my community! — I won’t be at the ceremony tonight.
But I’ll be there in spirit. Always.