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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 15, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 28
Flag will fly proud, like the many GLBT folks behind it
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Flag will fly proud, like the many GLBT folks behind it

by Kathleen Merryman - Courtesy of The News Tribune

The rainbow flag will, for the first time, fly over Tacoma City Hall.

It was raised at 4 p.m. on Thursday and will stay up through July 16 to help mark Pride Every Day in Tacoma, 10 days honoring the courage and contributions of the LGBTQ community.

This will be a week for people who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Queer to be open about who they are. It will be a week for straight people to talk with, have fun with and learn more from our brothers and sisters.

It will be a time for films, conversations about banned books, faith and sexuality, and Out in the Park, a street party and barbecue. It is, said Benjii Bittle, 'The only Pride celebration of its kind - anywhere.'

And then there's that rainbow flag.

'It is the first time on a flag pole that the city of Tacoma has celebrated this community,' said Ryan Mello, who is Gay and fills the at-large position on the Tacoma City Council.

Mello, 32, and Bittle, 42, point out that the flag will fly in a place used to honor and celebrate causes such as remembering missing soldiers and prisoners of war and heralding Tacoma's Tree City status.

It will not displace or dishonor the American flag flying above City Hall. It, and a flag raised Saturday at the Tacoma Dome for Out in the Park, will be in compliance with the U.S. Flag Code.

Members of the LGTBQ community have made, and are making, contributions to Tacoma, whether or not they have revealed their sexual orientation. Coming out can get you kicked out of your family, dropped by friends, shunned at church, and marginalized at work.

Being open, and being a force for good in the community, is one way to change that over time.

'Tacoma is a very pragmatic town,' Bittle said. 'You don't do anything in Tacoma by yourself. It's hard to build any coalition without Gays and Lesbians. We started to see people being visible and part of Tacoma.'

That visibility doesn't diminish the progress made by people who have acted outrageously or stayed in the closet, said Laurie Jinkins, 46, a state House District 27 representative. She's also deputy director of the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, and a mom.

Early Gay rights and anti-AIDS activists sometimes made their points with a flamboyance that brought needed attention to their causes.

In 1990, 70 percent of Tacoma voters squashed an anti-discrimination ordinance.

Time and work have changed attitudes and created a less punishing environment, Pride backers say.

'We are talking about being at the table, just as we are,' said Rainbow Center director, restaurateur and self-described Queer Michelle Douglas, 40. 'We're everywhere.'

'By no means is the work over,' said Mello, conservation director for the Cascade Land Conservancy. 'Nothing is guaranteed in civil rights.'

Or homes. Or casual communities.

This year, three LGBTQ young people have faced more rejection than they could bear and killed themselves, said Seth Kirby, 33, the director of Oasis Youth Center and a Transgender man.

Marcus Crowell, 22, had a much better outcome. He relied on Oasis while making the decision to come out to his family six months ago.

'My family was warm and accepting,' Crowell said. 'They knew all along and were just waiting for me to be comfortable.'

By contrast, Bittle hasn't seen his family for decades. When their church's interventions couldn't make him 'normal,' his parents kicked him out. He was 16.

He made his own way through high school and college, and works as deputy executive director of the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts.

At Oasis, Kirby's job is to help young people live through the rotten stuff and become happy people.

There are lots of allies: The kids who don't care about a friend's sexuality. The congregation that welcomes all who want to join. The straight people who helped make the rainbow ribbon streamers hanging throughout the Theater District July 16 for Pride Every Day in Tacoma.

And of course, the people who will gather Thursday in Ledger Square at Seventh Street and St. Helens Avenue to applaud the raising of the rainbow flag.

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