Take pride in the rainbow flag

For the past eight years, San Diego State has hosted a rainbow flag raising ceremony to kick off the summer’s pride festivities. Each year, the flag has been raised by members and supporters of the LGBTQ community to reflect on our progress and celebrate diversity. In 2012, military personnel attended to show solidarity after the historic repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” In 2013, members of the Boy Scouts of America raised the flag after the organization ended its discriminatory policy that denied gay Scouts membership. This year, after the historic Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage, the rainbow flag holds even more power, as it celebrates the progress we experienced as a country last month.

Though many students, alumni and faculty showed up to the event and chimed in on social media to praise the university’s actions, not everyone was enthusiastic about the gesture. Dissenting opinions on Facebook included arguments about the constitutionality of the pride flag and accusations of discrimination against straight white men. There were claims that the university was supporting a liberal agenda and were, by consequence, failing to represent the views of other members of the Aztec community. Detractors joked that SDSU was giving in to the politically correct while others demanded the flag’s removal because it offended them. A true testament to the flawed logic in many of these claims, one person even criticized the university for being able to afford a rainbow flag but not its own football field.

Given the recent debate over the South Carolina’s decision to remove the Confederate flag from state buildings and the incessant buzz over political correctness, debates regarding symbolic speech are worth the discussion because they deal with tangible social issues that still threaten our democracy. However, comparisons between the Confederate flag and the pride flag are not only disingenuous, they are morally repugnant.

Since activist Gilbert Baker designed it in 1978, the pride flag has symbolized unity, diversity and acceptance for a community that has been historically subject to persecution. For more than three decades the rainbow flag has persisted as a global symbol that seeks the equal treatment of LGBTQ individuals from discriminatory laws and practices that denied them of their jobs, families, marriages and livelihood. Pride in such a world is unthinkable, making the existence of a pride flag even more important. It does nothing to burden any other person’s free exercise of religion, nor does it support a movement of hate and oppression.

The same argument cannot be made for the Confederate flag. Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens declared during his famous cornerstone speech that the future of the Confederate States of America rested “upon the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.” When Dylann Roof massacred nine African-Americans in hopes of starting a “race war” and was found proudly touting a Confederate flag, the hateful history of white supremacy that plagues the American past and present could not be divorced from its singular symbol.

Different symbols have different histories and therefore, different powers. In a present where LGBTQ youths are disproportionately more likely to commit suicide and be faced with hate crimes than their heterosexual counterparts, having pride is important. For SDSU, raising a rainbow flag isn’t simply a polite gesture towards the LGBTQ community. In many ways, it signifies solidarity and hope that in someway, this campus will be a better place for the community. Harvey Milk himself said, “The only thing they have to look forward to is hope. And you have to give them hope.” When the rainbow flag is raised once a year and a student sees it, from an incoming freshman to an outgoing senior, it does just that. And as Aztecs, that’s something to be proud of.