Has the Golden State Become the Hate State?

A Message for National Coming Out Day

By Charles Beal, President, Gilbert Baker Foundation

October 11, 2023 - California is the birthplace of the LGBTQ+ Rainbow Flag. Artist and activist Gilbert Baker created this iconic symbol in San Francisco in 1978. For almost a half-century, this banner has served as a beacon of hope - not merely in the state where it was born but across the globe.

That's why it's shocking to see the wave of homophobia and censorship sweeping across California this year, as towns and school districts vote to ban public display of the Rainbow Flag.

Has the Golden State become the Hate State? If so, it's a terrible way to mark National Coming Out Day on October 11.

This disturbing trend should alarm all Californians. The Rainbow Flag has been banned in the Temecula Valley Unified School District, the Sunol Glen Unified School district, and the cities of Huntington Beach, Delano, Redlands and Carlsbad. And worse, a shop owner in Cedar Glen, Laura Ann Carleton, an LGBTQ+ ally ,was murdered in August for flying a Rainbow Flag at her gift shop.

Make no mistake; these acts of violence and Rainbow Flag bans are not isolated incidents. They are part of an escalating attack on all LGBTQ+ people. Consider the recent and ongoing wave of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation: bans on LGBTQ+-inclusive school curricula, on books, and on lifesaving trans healthcare. Suppressing speech and removing our cherished symbol is part of a larger right-wing mission: an effort to wipe out our civil rights, in fact, our very existence.

Why attack the Rainbow Flag? Because for 45 years it has offered LGBTQ+ people a message of hope, of welcome, of inclusion and sanctuary. Small wonder right-wing extremists want to destroy it. In the past two years, they've succeeded in banning public display of the Rainbow Flag in more than 40 American towns.

Those banning the flag in California offer the same misleading reasons as other communities for banning their pride flag. They claim that homosexuality clashes with their religious beliefs. They claim the Rainbow Flag is "political speech" or a "grooming" tool. They equate it with repugnant symbols like the Confederate and Nazi Flags. They are wrong. The Rainbow Flag belongs to no political party. It supports sexual and gender minorities. And they come in all forms: Republicans and Democrats. Police officers and teachers. Nurses and religious leaders. All of us.

To erase the Rainbow Flag has deep and dire consequences. It puts a target on our backs and encourages our enemies to claim open season on the entire LGBTQ+ community and our allies. Statistics show that when communities remove the Rainbow Flag from public property, there is a subsequent rise in hate crimes. And incidences of LGBTQ+ suicide attempts spike.

Our message on coming Out Day 2023 Simple.: By removing this symbol of hope, you were abetting bigots and fascists whose ultimate goal is to destroy our community.

Do you think flag bans aren't a threat? No reason to worry? Banning the Rainbow Flag is just the start. Haters always move on to oppress other groups. That's how bigotry works.

At the Gilbert Baker Foundation we began noticing this alarming trend of flag bans over a year ago. In response, we launched www.savetherainbowflag.com an initiative to counter this threat. Working with the American Civil Liberties Union, we designed a toolkit that local activists can use to push back and protect the right to fly the flag in their communities

Working with local activists, we've seen victories in New Jersey, Maryland and Florida. We're proud of the activists in Sovang, California, who turned back an effort to ban the flag and are inspired by citizens at the North OC Community College District who recently defeated a flag ban effort.

Fighting back against bullies is an American value. And it's time for elected officials ,from the Governor on down, to lead this fight. On October 11, National Coming Out Day, let's take action in the Golden State and across the nation . Raise the Rainbow Flag to support our LGBTQ families, friends, and neighbors.

Raise the Rainbow Flag! Stop the Bans!

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