Let me tell you the story of how flying the Pride flag last year, changed my life in such sweet ways. Now I am looking for ways to show my support as an ally all year long. It’s time to come out and stay out.
June. Pride month. 2018.
A former coworker and current Facebook friend, Jameela, posts, “Anyone who is a homeowner, and a straight ally, please put up a pride flag. It would mean a lot to me and my partner. We live in an apartment and our flag is barely visible. Please, put one up in solidarity.” I am moved. I am a homeowner. I consider myself a straight ally. Immediately, I shop online for a flag.
Jameela’s post was the clarity of invitation I needed. As a cisgender, straight, white woman, who does own a home in Los Angeles, I carry a lot of privilege and consciously tread lightly. Now Jameela’s post had me thinking. Jameela and I were teachers together years ago. She was the High School sponsor for the LGBTQ+ club and I was the middle school Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator, so we orbited in similar circles. Neither of us work at that school any more but we keep in touch on Facebook. When we did work together, I learned something from her in every conversation we had. When my son was in elementary school, she encouraged me to talk to him about gender and sexuality. When I confessed, I was a little nervous, she said, “trust me, kids totally get it, way more than you think.” She gave me lots of examples and encouragement.
When I spoke to my (then) eight-year old son, Jameela was right, he did get it and was way ahead of me. While my speech was full of starts and stops- he talked over me. “Jeez mom, we go over this at school. Be kind to everyone regardless of what they wear. From what you are saying, it’s like, there are tom-boys and tom-girls and everything in between.” I like the word tom-girl and wonder if my son just made that up. There are a few kids at his school who have come out as gender fluid. He told me that no adult could tell a kid who they were, what gender they were or what they could or could not wear. “Each person gets to decide their clothes, Mom, and they can change their mind day to day if they want,” he told me. My husband is frequently amused by my attempts to bring diversity and inclusive messages home only to get “man-splained” by my young son.
Our conversations continue to evolve and now my daughter participates. We have a discussion about access to the bathroom and gender-neutral bathrooms, and both my children are very sympathetic. “Everybody has to go. You can’t go a full day and not go! People should be able to choose what bathroom is best for them.” My daughter worries about people’s health. “Won’t you get sick if you have to hold it all day long?” They hear about another state limiting bathroom access. My son is angry, “If you got a problem with someone else, just stay in your stall. What someone looks like has nothing to do with what’s in their underwear. And what’s in your underwear is nobody’s business. Nobody.” I loved his fierce sense of right and wrong, how he combined things our pediatrician told him, and what he learned in school.
In the summer of 2018, my son is 11 and my daughter is 6. When the flag arrives, I have them help me put it up. Until Jameela’s post I had not noticed that my neighborhood didn’t have any flags. It seemed even more important to model solidarity. I explain to my children that the brown and black stripes honor the intersection of being gay and a person of color. My son says, “We know, Mom! But I think there should be another flag for gender. People get those two confused. Gender needs its own stripes on the flag or maybe a totally separate flag! Yeah- that’s it.” That’s what Jameela was trying to tell me- the kids are always way ahead. “Wow- I’ll investigate if there is one, buddy. I have no idea- that’s a good point,” I say. “They gotta make a new flag, Mom,” he tells me definitively as he walks off.
The flag is three by five feet and is larger than I expected. I had no idea how happy that flag would make me. It made me smile every time I saw it. The kids and I would comment on it as we drove up the driveway after a long day. The rainbow flag reminds me of my youth. I am reminded of my life in Seattle twenty years ago, when I had my own Queer Eye for the Straight girl experience way before that was a thing. I also like the brown and black stripes. They remind me that all of this work is evolving. They remind me of my adult life, when I learned about my own racial identity, and my privilege as a white woman. The stripes remind me I still have a lot of work to do, and that the work, like myself, is always evolving.
When June 2018 comes and goes, it’s my daughter who doesn’t want to take the flag down. Her enthusiasm surprises me. She says, “Can’t we keep the rainbow flag up? I like it! PLEASE! I love coming home to it. Please!!” I keep it up through July. In August when I am about to take it down, my daughter says, “Are you sure it’s not Pride somewhere in the world? 100% sure? What if it is somewhere? Can’t we just leave it up?”
While I love the flag, it seems in bad form to keep up all year. The point is to be an ally, not to enjoy house decorating. I don’t want the colors to fade, and I somehow worry it might be disrespectful to fly it beyond the summer. It feels like leaving Christmas lights up all year around. We don’t want to be embarrassing straight allies with no style, who don’t know when Pride month is or even worse are so lackluster, we let the flag fade! I think of the gay boys in Seattle from twenty years ago and I put my foot down. I tell my daughter, “We will put it up next summer- don’t you worry! It will be something to look forward to.” We take it down when the school year starts, and I am pretty sure every city has celebrated PRIDE.
A few weeks later, a neighbor knocks on my door. She introduces herself and then blurts out, “Where is the flag? Why did you take it down?” I look at her confused. She explains that her teenage daughter came out to the family. Seeing the flag in front of my house meant a lot to her and her husband. When her daughter saw the flag, she told her, “See mom, there are other people like me.” The mom and I shared a hug and a sweet conversation. “It’s important that kids feel safe and seen,” I tell her. Turns out the Mom did not know what Pride month is. I explain it to her and feel a little silly. Now I see how the symbol of the flag is important year around. We had stickers and symbols in our classrooms year around. I think of Jameela with gratitude. This is work we did at school and it feels good to extend it to the neighborhood. I had unconsciously compartmentalized being an ally to just my work, and then to just PRIDE season.
My Mom, a retired gender studies professor, heard the story of the neighbor and my daughter wanting the flag to fly year around. She purchased for us two spinning rainbow lawn decorations in the shape of flowers. They spin colorfully year around, right next to the sign from Southern Poverty Law Center, that reads, “Hate has no home here,” in ten different languages. Another neighbor has come by to let me know his daughter and her wife, his daughter-in-law, are visiting. We discuss it as if we are just talking about how much we love our children, but I know he is telling me information he doesn’t always share. We lock eyes and smile at one another because we see each other a little more deeply, a little more lovingly. I think to myself, “it’s important for everyone to feel safe and feel seen.”
To really change our culture, we all have to participate. I knew this, and yet I had not brought my work home, and it surprises me. How many times have I said in the classroom, “We can’t put the burden of “coming out” to the people who are already hurting. We, as allies have to come out, speak out, and show our support any way we can.” The simple act of putting up a flag broke a silence I was unaware of in myself and in my neighborhood. It’s such a small thing, but it’s yielding a big change inside me. I am getting to know my neighbors in surprising ways. I feel more connected to them. I feel more seen. Each little conversation I’ve had has been like a little ray of light against a heavy weight of cultural conditioning, that I carry. With every action, the ray of light feels brighter. And light is the perfect word. I mean it both as in shining a light in the dark, and light as in lightening a heavy load. It’s both.
Its June 2019. Time to get the Pride rainbow flag with its brown and black stripes out from storage. And guess what? My son is right. There is a Transgender flag. I order it. We will be flying them both this June. And we just might fly them all summer. I will make sure they don’t fade, but if they do, I will buy new ones next year. More importantly, I now understand it is important to have symbols of solidarity all year around. Our spinning flower lawn decorations are here to stay. I am looking for little window symbols like I had in my classroom, so my support is not relegated to just the summer.
Are you an ally? What can you do? What can you do to show support? What can you do to speak out against hate? What can you do to let your neighbors, or coworkers, or church members or all those people’s children, know, you support them? It may seem scary or daunting, but it’s actually simple. Wherever you go, you can let the people around you, know you support them- no matter what they wear or who they love. Any little way you can, is a little ray of light. I thought the flag was a little ray of light in the world. I had no idea what a world of good this light, would be, in my own heart. Come on out! I recommend it.
PFLAG- a national organization of support for parents and families of LGBTQ+ youth. https://pflag.org/loving-families
Support for Schools- National Network, GLSEN https://www.glsen.org
Gender Spectrum education and support for Parents https://www.genderspectrum.org
Support for Parents of LGBTQ+ youth https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/tips-for-parents-of-lgbtq-youth
List of Children’s Books from Human Rights Campaign