Editorial: Dems need to repeal Pride flag ban

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Wednesday March 27, 2024
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A Pride flag was displayed on the wall of the U.S. embassy in Moscow in 2020. Photo: Tass
A Pride flag was displayed on the wall of the U.S. embassy in Moscow in 2020. Photo: Tass

We're unsurprised that House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana) feels so proud of himself for the passage of a provision in the government spending bill that prohibits U.S. embassies from flying rainbow flags during Pride Month in June. It takes a skilled politician such as Johnson to recognize that with all of the issues facing the country, one of the most important was banning a symbol of joy and empowerment from flying outside diplomatic buildings. Yes, President Joe Biden signed the $1.2 trillion spending deal to keep the government open with that poison pill — a shutdown would have been disastrous — and the administration said it would promptly work to repeal the provision, as the Washington Post reported. Yet, there is no prohibition on embassy officials' personal use of Pride flags, so we expect that might be the case this June. Or perhaps they could paint a side of the building in rainbow colors, which is another workaround.

Sarcasm aside, the community did dodge a bullet during the spending bill debate as there had been more than 50 anti-LGBTQ provisions included before they were excised. The flag ban was the only one to make it into the bill. The flag prohibition is temporary and lasts until September 30, when the spending bill expires. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had authorized embassies to fly the Pride flag back in 2021 in support of LGBTQ rights after former President Donald Trump forbade it during his administration, as NBC News reported in 2019.

Of the other 50-plus riders, they targeted everything from gender-affirming care to diversity, equity, and inclusion bans to sports bans, as the Washington Blade reported. One policy rider proposed for the Food and Drug Administration would have defunded any hospital that "distributes, sells or otherwise uses drugs that disrupt the onset of puberty or sexual development for those under 18," a measure targeting not only transgender youth but also those experiencing precocious puberty, the Blade noted.

The Gilbert Baker Foundation, which was established after the gay rainbow flag co-creator's death in 2017, was not pleased with Johnson's shenanigans. And foundation President Charles Beal hit the nail on the head when he stated in a news release, "The Republican agenda is an obvious one: distract from real issues by assaulting the most vulnerable."

"That's why they have focused their hatred on the LGBTQ+ community," Beal added. "After years of legislating book bans, curriculum bans, bathroom restrictions, and withholding medically needed gender therapy, their latest act is a signature Republican cruelty: For a crucial trillion-dollar budget that would prevent a government shutdown, the GOP slipped in a measure to ban the display of rainbow flags at U.S. embassies all over the world."

The danger in what the Republicans did, as Beal noted, is that in many of these countries, being LGBTQ is punishable by imprisonment or even death. That's why having the rainbow flag fly outside of U.S. embassies is so important. Thanks to Johnson and his fellow GOPers, however, governments in these countries have been given a "green light," as Beal stated, to advance violence and homophobia both at home and abroad.

Now the Biden administration and Democratic lawmakers must work to repeal the flag ban and expend the necessary political capital. Johnson is already on shaky ground as House speaker. And it's the Democratic Party that positions itself as an ally to the LGBTQ community. Biden is in a tough reelection fight, as we all know. The prospect of a second Trump administration puts our rights at risk, not to mention the rights of LGBTQs in foreign countries.

This flag flap is distressing, but temporary. What cannot happen in the next budget battle is inclusion of anti-LGBTQ riders, including another flag ban. Budget battles should be limited to fiscal matters, not inserting prohibitions on gender-affirming care or other red herrings. In today's hyper-politicized environment, however, we're not holding out too much hope for that. The solution is to ensure that Democrats take back control of the House in November's elections, as well as keep the Senate and presidency.

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