Patrick Saunders: A flag and a conversation

On June 8, a rainbow flag with black and brown stripes added to it was hoisted up a pole outside Philadelphia City Hall as part of a campaign to make LGBT people of color more visible. And with that move came controversy.

The uproar spread from Philadelphia across the country, and you know Atlanta wasn’t going to be left out of this one. This is such an Atlanta conversation. We have one of the largest populations of LGBT people in the country. We have the most LGBT people of color and the largest Black Gay Pride. And we have our own troubled history with race in this city, both in and outside of the LGBT community.

Many thought the flag was divisive, or said the flag wasn’t supposed to be about race, or just didn’t like the flag changing. It’s no coincidence that the vast majority of those opposed to the flag looked like me … white cisgender gay men.

And to all those white cisgender gay men out there who are tired of having your color and gender identity pointed out to you, I suggest you try imagining what it’s like to be a color or gender identity other than your own. And if you were upset about the flag, I’m curious what exactly this takes away from you, really? Does this really affect your life in any meaningful way? Can you consider how much more positively it could impact someone of color compared to whatever negative you think it could bring you?

The mistake here is thinking that adding those two colors on the flag in Philadelphia was only for people of color. This move was beneficial for everybody because of the conversation it’s created about the experiences of LGBT people of color. But it’s beneficial only if we’re honest enough with ourselves and reasonable enough with others to have that conversation.

“They’re very difficult conversations to have,” said Amber Hikes, executive director of Philadelphia’s Office of LGBT Affairs, when asked by NBC News about it. “I’ve been very clear about that — this is not going to be an easy process.”

It’s two stripes. If you don’t like it, fly version three of the rainbow flag. That’s right, the flag that people are so upset about changing (remember, in just one city) has changed before. Some people identify with it and fly it. Others don’t, and fly another. There is no national delegation that decides what flag represents us and what flag we all have to fly. The one with black and brown stripes flew in Philadelphia. You’ll probably see it here and there this fall at Atlanta Pride. Deal with it.