Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Flying Flags on Harrison: Gay Pride, Liberty, and Reaching across the Divide

 I am on a local neighborhood association board here in Boise.  About fifteen years ago, some enterprising members of the association went through the complicated process of getting the appropriate licenses to place flag holders on historic street lamps on Harrison Boulevard, the most prominent residential street in the city.  For most of that time, when volunteers were available, the association flew the American and Idaho flags on several occasions, primarily Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day.  It was always a volunteer effort, and it didn't always happen, but when it did, it was beautiful.

 Last month, we received a request to fly the gay pride flag during Boise's pride week.  The neighborhood association unanimously approved.  But no sooner had the flags gone up, than a counter-movement began.  Flag Day, it so happened, occurred during Boise's pride week.  Here are some of the e-mails we received:

I live on Harrison Blvd. why didn't I get information about the gay pride flags on my street? Don't we have any say on matters that affect us, sure thought we did. I am a 100% disabled veteran, where are the American flags for flag day ?


We are North End property owners and have in the past been so appreciative of the Association’s efforts to display the appropriate state and national emblems on special occasions. Kudos to those responsible.

We recently noticed the many rainbow flags on the intersections on Harrison Boulevard. This was totally unexpected and surprising to us, given the history of patriotic pride usually on display.

Assuming we all know what these current flags are about, I am still hoping that they will not be in evidence during the annual June 14thcelebration of Flag Day, honoring the stars & stripes of our country.

Please replace the  current emblems with the star spangled banner being honored nationwide on Flag Day.



Rainbow flags:  I hope these flags will be removed by Wednesday -- Flag Day.  I want to see the American flag!!!


And that is just some of the responses we got.  Clearly, the intent was to force a removal of the rainbow flags through an appeal to patriotism.  Notably, none of those insisting that the association fly the American and Idaho flags had ever volunteered previously and the flags had never been flown on Flag Day in this volunteer effort.

But I write this story on Independence Day to highlight the admirable folks in my association.  Because they did not give in to the effort to remove the rainbow flags, but they also did something that so often seems missing in our national politics.  They found a third way:  quite literally.  Late, on the night before Flag Day, two of the association members went out, standing on a ladder in the back of a pickup truck in the dark, and placed American flags in a third holder in the posts that typically goes unused.  They did it to make people happy who had, well let's be honest, picked a fight.  And so, on  Flag Day, there were two pride flags on each light fixture, and one American flag.  The night after Flag Day, the same two volunteers went out with the pickup truck and the ladder, and they took down the American flags once Flag Day was over.  The pride flags stayed the rest of the week.  

It was an incredible amount of work on their part.  But it said something remarkable.  It said that we weren't going to back down on the pride flags, but we also took the others who wanted to see the American flag on Flag Day seriously.  We held firm to our values, but we also did what we could to make others feel like they were recognized on a day that mattered to them.  At the end of the day, it's really about how we relate to people who aren't like us that live in the same places we do.  Today's hyper-partisanship seeks to build a world where such third ways can't ever happen, but if we move beyond ideology, most of what divides us is a lot like the flags we fly, and many times, those flags look good together.




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