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Who you callin' a flag?

I had a conversation this week with my youngest brother Brian, a truly upstanding man, and during our chat, he told me a great story about how he was recently asked to hang the pride flag at the place where he worked in Massachusetts and how he made the choice to say a prayer as he was hanging it up for ALL to see.


He told me that he prayed for love and thanks.


  • Thanks - for giving me, his gay brother John-Michael and my partner Jeff, a beautiful life where we are accepted, loved and cherished, not persecuted or prosecuted.

  • Love - basically for more love in the world.


Upon hearing this, my heart filled with joy. Then, after I thanked him and opened up to him personally for a short bit (something I am sure he and I will delve into a bit more at a later time) I hung up and left the conversation in a buzz of emotion, thought and recollection.

Recollection

Born and raised in Massachusetts, Brian and I were certainly exposed to a lot. I was especially vulnerable during my time in Boston, in college and in my teenage years in Greater Boston (Medford) where I was raised. In 1993, a year after college graduation, I decided to venture to Manhattan to, y'know, hit the bigtime and become a "stah!" <insert Boston accent here.>


In every June that I can recall, New York City, was a vibrant palette of color, emotion, and love. Each June transformed the city into a haven of celebration, where the spirit of diversity, inclusion, acceptance and love thrived among its millions (with an "m") of residents. That much of all the good feels in one place for one whole month is wildly overwhelming.


Diversity, inclusion, acceptance, love and joy are the kinds of feelings and emotions we would all want to experience more often, right?

"Love is the passionate and abiding desire on the part of two or more people to produce together conditions which each can be, and spontaneously express, his real self; to produce together an intellectual soil and an emotional climate in which each can flourish, far superior to what either could achieve alone."

Yet, for some, June is an opportunity to crash the party, persecute and bully people, call names, incite violence and hurt. I just don't get it. Long after June 28, 1970 (the first-ever Gay Pride Parade in NYC), this is still happening to celebrations in places all over the world.


At one point in the conversation, Brian also said to me that there are parts to Pride that he still tries to understand ... and this, I totally get, since it's all become a bit complicated over the years.


So, what is pride? What does it mean? How did it get started and who or what started it? What does the Rainbow flag stand for and how did all of this gain so much emotional energy?

Emotion

In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village in New York City, became the flashpoint for the LGBTQIA+ rights movement. Police raids on gay bars were routine in the 1960s, but that night, the patrons of Stonewall fought back. Among them were Marsha P. Johnson, a black transgender woman, and Sylvia Rivera, a Latina transgender woman. Their bravery and leadership were pivotal in the uprising that ensued.


Sylvia and Marsha, both prominent figures in the LGBTQIA+ community, were known for their activism and their efforts to support homeless LGBTQIA+ youth and sex workers.


Their presence at Stonewall was a testament to their ongoing fight against discrimination and marginalization.

Sylvia & Marsha in New York City

Gay Americans in the 1950s and 1960s faced an anti-gay legal system. Early homophile groups in the U.S. sought to prove that gay people could be assimilated into society, and they favored non-confrontational education for homosexuals and heterosexuals alike. The last years of the 1960s, however, were very contentious, as many social/political movements were active, including the civil rights movement, the counterculture of the 1960s, and the anti-Vietnam War movement. These influences, along with the liberal environment of Greenwich Village, served as catalysts for the Stonewall riots.


Very few establishments welcomed openly gay people in the 1950s and 1960s. Those that did were often bars, although bar owners and managers were rarely gay. At the time, the Stonewall Inn was owned by the Mafia. It catered to an assortment of patrons and was known to be popular among the poorest and most marginalized people in the gay community: drag queens, transgender people, effeminate young men, butch lesbians, male prostitutes, and homeless youth. Police raids on gay bars were routine in the 1960s, but officers quickly lost control of the situation at the Stonewall Inn. Tensions between New York City police and gay residents of Greenwich Village erupted into more protests the next evening, and again several nights later. Within weeks, Village residents quickly organized into activist groups to concentrate efforts on establishing places for gays and lesbians to be open about their sexual orientation without fear of being arrested.

After the Stonewall riots, gays and lesbians in New York City faced gender, race, class, and generational obstacles to becoming a cohesive community. Within six months, two gay activist organizations were formed in New York, concentrating on confrontational tactics, and three newspapers were established to promote rights for gays and lesbians. Within a few years, gay rights organizations were founded across the U.S. and the world.

"Pride was not born out of a need to celebrate being gay, but instead our right to exist, just as unique as we are, free, without prosecution or persecution."

The Stonewall riots became a defining moment in the LGBTQIA+ civil rights movement, their significance cemented by the marches that began a year later. New York City's Christopher Street Liberation Day March, recognized as the city's first Pride parade, marked the beginning of an enduring tradition.


On June 28, 1970, the first gay pride marches took place in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago commemorating the anniversary of the riots. Similar marches were organized in other cities. Today, June is celebrated globally as LGBTQIA+ Pride Month, honoring not only for the spirit and resilience of those who stood up for their rights at Stonewall but also, as my straight brother so simply puts, as celebrations of love and thanks.


Well, here's a thought ...

Thought

Have you stopped to think what you truly see, think, feel when you see the rainbow flag? Do you see how Brian sees it, as a symbol of celebration? A celebration of love and thanks?


A year or so ago, right here in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, I came across a string of online comments drawing attention to the many Rainbow Flags that fly all over Eureka Springs. Shops, Inns, homes, pubs, restaurants, clubs, etc. This past week, again, hateful/hurtful comments about gays, lesbians, queer people and more . . . will this ever stop?


The comments about the Rainbow Flag continue to blow my mind. Comment after comment, once again, clarified to me how people can see the very same object or symbol, but think and feel vastly differently about it.


Sure. Symbols surround us and will continue to do so in our lifetime. Add to this, the many questions that human beings from all walks of life have about that same symbol. The fights, activism, reasons all tend to get skewed and the meaning of why it was even created to be a symbol in the first place starts to become more and more unclear, muddy, political, complex.


We all think differently, and this is truly a beautiful thing. Diversity of thought is spectacular. Yet, when we allow our thinking to incite hatred, fear. unrest and chaos, something so beautiful can quickly turn dark.


This very diversity of thought is something to be celebrated but before we go drumming our drums off into the night, please know that thousands of symbols are all around us. As you read each of the below, please stop, take a moment to live in your thoughts and truly assess what you think when you see the symbol.


In this day and age, the focus should be about how you control what you can control.


Here is a super basic two-step process to consider:


1. A belief is just a thought you continue to think. Change what you think, and you will change your belief.

(At age 6, I believed in Santa Claus until one day, well, you know.)


2. Then, work on how you choose to act, think, speak, behave, live and be. This is all what you can control.

(After learning of the North Pole's Snowball Meltdown, I didn't cry or throw a tantrum, I just harnessed my behavior and behaved. This quickly changed my belief that Mom and Dad will or won't put things under the tree, depending on, well, you know.)


Now, let's take some of these prominent symbols and challenge our thinking:


  • Eagle: Often used as a national symbol, the eagle represents strength, freedom, and sovereignty. North American tribes used this originally.

  • Peace Sign: Originally designed for the nuclear disarmament movement, it has become an international symbol of peace and anti-war movements. The British used this originally.


  • Swastika: The swastika has been used as a religious and cultural "good fortune" symbol in various indigenous cultures around the world for thousands of years. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the swastika was adopted by various German nationalist movements as a symbol of Germanic heritage, identity, and pride. Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains used this originally.

  • Donkey and Elephant: Representing the two major political parties in the United States, the donkey symbolizes the Democratic Party, and the elephant symbolizes the Republican Party. Americans used this originally.


  • Cross: The primary symbol of Christianity, representing the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and his resurrection. Early Christians in the Roman Empire used this originally.


  • Rising Sun: Used as a symbol of nationalism and imperialism, it is also a common motif in various cultural contexts. The Japanese used this originally.


  • Scales of Justice: Representing the legal system and the principle of fairness, it is often used in political contexts related to law and order. The Egyptians used this originally.


  • Fist (Raised Fist): A symbol of solidarity and resistance, the raised fist is used by various political movements, including labor rights, civil rights, and more recently, the Black Lives Matter movement. Wobblies used this originally.

  • Pink Triangle: Originally used to identify homosexual men in concentration camps, it has been reclaimed as a symbol of remembrance and resistance. Nazis used this originally.

❤‍🧡‍💛‍💚‍💙‍💜

  • Rainbow Flag: Created by Gilbert Baker in 1978, this flag is a globally recognized symbol used to spread the celebration of diversity, equity and inclusion. The LGBT community used this originally.

Larry & Curtis, Eureka Springs, AR

Ask yourself, with so many ever-changing symbols everywhere, how are you celebrating thanks and love regardless? How do you act, think, speak, behave, live and be. All of this you can actually control.


Much thanks and love to my brother Brian. It is remarkable that in one meaningful conversation, he helped me rethink all of this and arrive at a new way of seeing symbols in our society, like the Rainbow Flag - which, incidentally, is wired straight to my heart. I see it, and my heart fills with joy and love. Instantly. This is the belief system that I have about the Rainbow Flag and it has, in fact, changed over the years, just as I have changed.


Sure, rainbows are everywhere in June, but is that really a bad thing? Or is it just a belief that you have to work on where you constantly tell yourself that it's a bad thing?


Each time you see a Rainbow Flag in June, take that as a reminder to do what Brian did - say a prayer, give thanks and spread love. It's that simple.

{Thanks} Pride is a time when we give thanks to those that fought for us, respected us, protected us. We give thanks for what we've been given, for our uniqueness, our diversity, who we are and the opportunities that are still before us. {Love} We love abundantly, and this brings inclusion and acceptance. We include everyone, radically choose the one we love, and we love those who step in and out of our lives.

❤‍🧡‍💛‍💚‍💙‍💜

Happy Pride, Eureka Springs!❤️

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