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On Flying an LGBTQ Flag

Ralph Bernhardt, SPN and Spartan Shield staff member

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During last week’s Bixby High Blackout Pep Rally, students were encouraged to bring American flags. Among the large, traditional Stars and Stripes, the Thin Blue Line flags of law enforcement and dozens of miniature hand-held flags, one stood out.

In coordination with several other students, I brought a rainbow flag with the stars of the 50 states in the upper-left corner. This flag was from the 2017 Tulsa Pride Parade, which many Bixby students attended. A symbol of tolerance and diversity, this flag seemed innocuous, especially since it flew alongside a significantly larger U.S. flag.

Because of a federal district court of appeals ruling, Oklahoma had marriage equality about 10 months before the U.S. Supreme Court made it legal nationwide on June 26, 2015. In 2017, according to Gallup, more than half of Oklahomans supported that decision.

At Bixby High, some students took the initiative to start a Gay-Straight Alliance last year, making official a group with tolerance in mind.

Therefore, it was a bit of a surprise that some at the pep rally took offense at the rainbow flag. Some said they found the flag to be insulting; one declared that “millions of Americans had died for the Stars and Stripes” and that I had disrespected their memories. Several grabbed me or the flag in an attempt to tear it down.

Overall, the reaction was more positive than negative. Many students complimented the flag or asked to take photos with it. Several staff members openly supported the decision. There’s nothing wrong with speaking your mind; after all, that’s what we had done by flying the rainbow flag in the first place. Unfortunately, genuine concerns and criticism were dwarfed by less-than-loving comments flung at myself and others across hallways, parking lots and classrooms.

Most of the comments said something negative about liberals or Democrats, but LGBTQ rights are not partisan issues. After all, one of the judges who voted to legalize marriage equality across Oklahoma is a Republican. President Donald Trump supports marriage equality. Plus, it’s been almost a decade since the majority of Americans opposed LGBTQ relationships.

It’s concerning. If just waving a rainbow flag generates controversy, think what would it be like to to attend school every day as someone who is openly lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. You can choose not to bring a flag, but you can’t choose your sexuality.

With more than 1,800 students at Bixby High, there is diversity of every kind. According to a 2015 Gallup poll, about 3.8 percent of Americans identify as either gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. That means almost one in 25 Americans identify as LGBTQ, or about one student per average classroom.

No group at our school would make comments that are openly racist or sexist, so it’s baffling why it’s considered more acceptable to single out those who identify as having a non-traditional sexual orientation. Our community is much more tolerant than it was just 10 years ago and will hopefully grow more so as time moves on.

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