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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 17, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 24
Our flag, part II
Pride flag will fly - community elated
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Our flag, part II
Pride flag will fly - community elated

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

We often use the word 'community' to describe what we have as LGBT people. You can lean on me and I will lean on you - we'll hold each other up. Short of some dramatic squabbles here and there, we really do take care of each other.

One of the things we've gotten really good at (be it out of a sense of equality or simple necessity) is organizing. Make no mistake, a Gay community scorned is a community that can, and will, fight back. We make signs, boycott, march, petition, and social-network our way to victory time and again.

Such is the case with the Pride flag that once proudly flew high above the city on the top of the iconic Space Needle. We did it, everyone. The flag will fly again.

I say 'we' because there really isn't any one person who can claim that this victory is theirs and theirs alone. We might have been a bit fractured over the whole deal, but in the end, with a collective voice, we screamed out that the visibility that the flag brings to our community is visibility we've earned.

The Pride flag saga was not a tale of catty drama or hurt egos, no mere tale of a perceived injustice. What this struggle showed was that, although we all may not see eye-to-eye on everything, we can - and do - make a difference in our own ways. The beauty of all this mess is that there are no losers. The Space Needle wins and we win - together. Happy Pride, indeed.

THE CHALLENGE
On June 13, less than a week after Space Needle officials announced they would not fly the Pride flag this year due to branding issues, they issued a challenge to the LGBT community: The Pride flag will be raised if the community could raise $50,000 for four charities.

To sweeten the deal, the Space Needle folks chipped in a $5,000 donation right off the bat.

The fundraising challenge would benefit four different organizations that support the LGBT community: the Greater Seattle Business Association's (GSBA) LGBT and allied scholarship fund; the It Gets Better Project, which supports the Trevor Project; Lambda Legal; and Mary's Place, a Trans-inclusive women's shelter in Seattle.

While some members of the community applauded this effort - including Josh Castle, the Seattle activist behind the petition that called for the Space Needle to fly the flag - others did not. When phrases like 'legal extortion' and 'holding the flag for ransom' began to surface, it was clear that this problem wasn't going to go away quietly.

Any way you slice it, $50,000 in two weeks is a tall order. Had the community been aware of the Space Needle's intentions in January and been given time to raise the money from the start, there is no doubt we would've met - and probably well exceeded - the dollar amount.

Still, the Space Needle (a GSBA member) was applauded by some. 'I could not be more excited by the Space Needle's decision,' Castle told Joe Mirabella, the journalist/activist credited for breaking the story, in a Change.org press release. 'The Space Needle chose four charities that I am proud to support. Now let's all pitch in and raise the flag!'

And people did pitch in, and continue to do so. As of press time, the community had raised more than $13,000 towards the $50,000 goal.

The voice of those who cried foul could best be heard on social networking sites. One Facebook group called for a boycott of the Space Needle, while another asked people not to donate because they saw it as a form of legal extortion.

The Space Needle's silence did little to ease the tension. In fact, other than updates from Joe Mirabella, the community didn't hear a peep from Space Needle officials.

But on June 15, when they finally did speak, their message packed a punch. Mirabella reported that the Space Needle would fly the Pride flag, regardless of whether or not the community reached the $50,000 goal.

THE OUTCOME
So what happened? Why the sudden change of heart? I suppose we might never really know the answer to those questions, as most corporations talk spin or hide behind reasons that only they truly understand. I surmise they simply crumbled under the weight of the mounting pressure the community was applying.

At no time did the staff of SGN think that the Space Needle stood as a towering edifice of bigotry. What we did think (and write) was that this was just an absolute public relations mess from beginning to end. The silver lining of this storm cloud is a big payoff for this year's Pride. The community is energized. Pride and the flag were the talk of the town. People who don't normally talk politics were politicking and lobbying for the Space Needle to 'do the right thing.' Money has been raised and we have a cause we are proud to stand behind.

Mirabella reported, 'The [Space Needle officials'] new statement makes it absolutely clear that the Space Needle will raise the Pride flag during Seattle Pride weekend. They also want to continue to raise $50,000 through an online fundraiser to help four LGBT charities.'

'This is a real win/win for everyone involved,' he explained. 'Those passionate about the Pride flag will get to see it on the Space Needle again. Those who know how desperately our community needs financial support will have a tool to raise $50,000.'

In a conversation with Mirabella, he and I agreed that, by telling the LGBT community before June 26 that they would raise the Pride flag regardless of the monetary goal, they motivated the community, and the $50,000 goal would most likely be met.

Space Needle officials defended themselves in their June 15 statement, which read, in part, 'We are thrilled to report that since Monday, we have raised more than $13,000 towards our goal of $50,000 for LGBT charities. & Our sincere intention is to reach out to the LGBT community to raise money for these important organizations and to proudly fly the Pride flag on the top of the Space Needle. We are on our way to our fundraising goal, and will be just as excited as the community to see the Pride flag raised on the Space Needle. & This is not the first time the Space Needle has organized fundraisers for the community. We had a competition between the Huskies and the Cougars in which the school with the most donations was honored with their flag on the Space Needle. We raised more than $160,000 for Habitat for Humanity during this fundraiser in less than 14 days. We have challenged many charitable organizations to raise money for humanitarian causes, such as our Tree for All holiday project to light our tree at the base of the Needle. & This current fundraiser is a way to raise money for people in the LGBT community who especially need it, such as helping LGBT students pay for college, giving LGBT youth the support they need to keep from contemplating suicide, providing homeless women a safe LGBT-friendly place, and providing legal representation to LGBT persons and causes. This was a way the Space Needle could not only raise the Pride flag, but also give back even more to the LGBT community.'

They said the Needle has turned down eight requests to fly different flags this year alone, but the overwhelming support for this cause created the opportunity for them to lead the fundraising for the LGBT organizations.

'Again, our sincere intention is to reach out to the LGBT community to help raise money for these important organizations and to proudly fly the Pride flag on the top of the Space Needle,' the statement concluded.

Castle has now set his sights on continuing to help the community reach the $50,000 goal, and Mirabella is hopeful for a wonderful Pride. The duo behind the public campaign to see the Pride flag raised has cause to be proud. The job is essentially done, though they say it's not completely over until the money is raised and the flag is flown.

'Let's hope for a sunny and beautiful Pride weekend,' wrote Mirabella for the Seattle P.I. 'The flag is going to look magnificent. Even more importantly, four amazing charities are going to get a lot of support from our community. The Space Needle has clearly demonstrated they care about our community. They could have easily just raised the flag, but instead they are going to both raise the flag and raise money for our community at the same time. This is simply an incredible outcome.'

IT'S PERSONAL
It has been said that personality goes a long way. While that may be true, we are learning as a community that as we struggle to find our footing on the shaky ground where we fight for our equality, it is often the personal story that makes a difference. In the middle of all the Pride flag madness, one such story came from the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, The Abbey of Saint Joan.

Just hours before the Space Needle said they would fly the flag, the Sisters hit the streets to help raise money so that the flag would fly.

They were a sight to see. Standing on the streets outside the Space Needle with picket signs and donation buckets, they began a truly organic awareness campaign.

For Sister Abba, this was personal. Abba told KOMO News that she came out as a teen in a small town of just 375 people and that 'it almost destroyed' her family. She described it as a 'horrible, horrible experience.'

Trouble ensued - not only for Abba, but the whole family, and after suffering from intense bullying, Abba attempted suicide on three different occasions.

Although Abba was helping to raise money for the Space Needle to fly the flag, she said she understood how the ultimatum could be unsettling.

'We fought so much already, why do we have to fight again to have Pride?' she told KOMO.

When Abba heard that some of the money raised would go towards helping Gay youth, she was sold on the challenge and got to work.

What was not reported in the KOMO story was that Space Needle officials came down to visit Abba and the other Sisters who were helping to raise money. They even brought them coffee and doughnuts.

It is not the point of view of this writer that Sister Abba is singlehandedly responsible for changing the hearts and minds of the Space Needle folks (nor is she claiming such). But the point still stands that it is face-to-face interactions like this that can help in ways that are invaluable.

Throughout this fight - and make no mistake, it was a fight - the thousands of people who signed Castle's Change.org petition and made hundreds of personal phone calls, Facebook posts, etc., inevitably changed the way the Space Needle saw things.

Pride is a time of year when we are reminded of just who we are, as individuals and collectively, and that we do have a voice in this world. We are here, we are Queer, and we do still love the rainbow flag. Oftentimes in our community's history, the debate over whether or not we should care so much about the Pride flag creeps up. Well, I think Seattle and the Space Needle have proved that yes, we do care - we care a great deal.

I agree with Mirabella that the Pride flag is going to look magnificent. It will always look magnificent regardless of where it is flown, because it stands for us, our history, our struggle, our Pride.

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