By Lou Marzeles
Editor 

Pride flag flap shows culture division

 

Lou Marzeles

FLAG RAISING QUESTIONS: The Pride flag (third one down) flies over the Goldendale Department of Social and Health Services office, in observance of Pride Month for the LGBTQ community. The flag prompted a lot of inquiries, most of which were deflected by the office, according to several reports.

You get the sense the folks at the State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) in Goldendale might be a little stressed by questions about the Pride flag flying in front of their office. Their careful deflection of questions-which in Goldendale are not out of curiosity, mostly, but out of concern-paints a striking picture of the polarization occurring in the state, in turn an indication of that phenomenon across the country.

A refresher: the Pride flag is a multicolored flag representing the LGBTQ community, an emblem of self-esteem for the broad gay constituencies throughout the country. In the wild in Goldendale, you wouldn't necessarily expect this flag to be raised-not that reasonable people here would say you shouldn't respect all people as human beings but because in this conservative heartland, there just aren't many who would get on board a gay pride bandwagon.


Reports from multiple people who've inquired about why the flag is flying at the DSHS in Goldendale indicate that you can't get a straight answer, even one as simple (and correct) as saying the state invited state agencies everywhere to fly the flag, even as it flies over the state capitol in Olympia.

If pressed, according to one report, people at the Goldendale DSHS have said you'd have to take your questions to higher levels in state circles of power. If really pressed, they would give you a name. But the closest anyone in the Goldendale office will get to being direct is to say, "You know it's Pride Month, right?"

That answer, delivered as ostensibly self-evident, actually is just a hint of the plethora of problems symbolized by the Cascade Curtain, the metaphoric dividing line between the rampant liberalism of the state west of the Cascades and the staunch conservatism of areas to the east. Yes, June has been proclaimed Pride Month by powers that be. But is every agency everywhere therefore flying the flag this month?

Hardly. The Trump administration denied permission to U.S. embassies and agencies in this country and around the world to fly the Pride flag. Some found ways to circumvent the denial and put the flag up in windows or building fronts or in lights on buildings. But in Washington and other Democratic-controlled states, permission was not a problem. The Pride flag went up in Olympia on day one of Pride Month. State agencies were encouraged to fly it, apparently without guidance on soliciting community buy-in. And there was push-back.


In Wenatchee, for example, the DSHS office there took down its POW-MIA flag to make room for the Pride flag. Mark Harle, a volunteer with Chelan County's Veterans Services, was outraged, says a report from NCWLife.com, a news service in Wenatchee. That service reported the POW-MIA flag went back up after that outraged reached un-ignorable proportions.

"Kelly Stowe with DSHS in Olympia emailed the agency's response to the Veterans' concerns" to NCWLife.com, the site reported. "Since 2015, Gov. Jay Inslee has taken part in raising the Pride flag over the state capitol building in the month of June." Inslee himself proudly raised the flag up the capitol flagpole. "This year state agencies are being invited to raise the Pride flag wherever their offices have flagpoles," Stowe continued. "Unfortunately, some offices where flagpoles only had room for three flags [most offices fly the U.S. and Washington State flags and sometimes one other] temporarily removed the POW/MIA flags in exchange for the Pride banner. This will be rectified, and we will be exchanging the Pride Banner with the POW/MIA flags."

Stowe went on to say the incident was an unfortunate oversight and that DSHS was committed to serving everyone "without judgment or alienation." But it was an oversight that hit a very raw nerve.

Nerves are frayed all over eastern Washington, where the disempowered are also feeling disenfranchised. Republicans have been ignored in the Legislature, as happened when it worked on the state budget while eschewing any Republican input. For many in the minority party, Olympia feels like a bad sheriff in a bad Western who takes no guff from the riffraff he doesn't like. It could be worse if you're a Republican; you could be in Oregon where Gov. Kate Brown has sent the Oregon State Police to hunt and retrieve Republican senators who fled the state in order to prevent it voting on a controversial climate-change bill championed by state Democrats. (Oregon law requires a certain minimum of senators in session to vote on a bill; Republicans, who say the bill would devastate rural Oregon, left town to deny Democrats the easy victory they would have if a vote occurred. As of Monday, they were still missing, with many thought to be across the border in Mexico-no, wait, this isn't a Western; they're in Idaho.) The Oregon legislative session ends next Monday, though Brown has threatened a special session with Republicans made to toe the line.

Yes, you read that right: a state has sent its police to round up renegade senators to force them to return to the capital and vote.

In Goldendale, the Pride flag will fly through the rest of the month. Some like it, some are indifferent, some really don't like it. Political inertia will keep preference from making much difference, at least for now.

 

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