Controversy Brewing with Gay Pride Flag Located at Harvey Milk Plaza in San Francisco

The traditional gay Pride flag. This flag, though well-known, does not represent the needs of black and brown members of the LGBTQ+ community, according to some activists. Designed by Gilbert Baker (1951-2017)
The new 8-stripe Pride flag includes a black stripe and brown stripe at the top. The new colors are meant to represent people of color who are often ignored in the larger LGBTQ+ community, according to activists. Created by nonbinary designer Daniel Quasar

By John Clise

There may be a storm brewing in san Francisco over the display of the large traditional Pride flag currently displayed at Harvey Milk Plaza.

The plaza is named after Harvey Bernard Milk who was an American politician and the first openly gay elected official in the history of California, where he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.  On November 27, 1978, Milk and Moscone were assassinated by Dan White, a disgruntled city supervisor.

Milk had migrated to the San Francisco are from New York City in the early 1970s. He settled in the Catro Cultural District, which is at the heart of the flag controversy.

 On November 8, 1997, the 20th anniversary of Harvey Milk’s election. A 30 x 20-foot Rainbow Flag was raised on a 70-foot flagpole as a beacon of hope, according to supporters of the traditional Pride flag.

Last month, the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District announced it would launch a community survey, to be followed by a town hall, on the subject of raising a more contemporary Pride flag at Castro and Market streets as it is believed by some the current version doesn’t fairly represent Black and Brown members of the LGBTQ+ community.

It should be noted that +LGBTQ+ people of color are disproportionately affected by issues such as HIV and AIDS rates, deadly violence, and homelessness. The two stripes were added to bring attention to these issues and was hailed by many LGBTQ+ activists of color.

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The Castro Merchants Association, which pays for and maintains the 20 by 30 foot flag, has proposed installing a second flagpole in the Castro neighborhood to fly a more cotemporary, inclusive version of the Pride flag design.

“The Castro LGBTQ Cultural District recognizes the importance of representation and visibility for our LGBTQ+ communities in the neighborhood and across the city,” Elizabeth Lanyon, the co-chair of the cultural district’s advisory board, stated in a recent press release. “As the LGBTQ movement continues to evolve, we will do our part to be sure every LGBTQ person who comes to the Castro knows they are safe, celebrated, and welcome. We are eager to hear from you, our neighbors, business owners, visitors and friends, about what this means and how we can be part of an inclusive and thriving Castro.”

Older members of the LGBTQ+ community and the Castro Cultural District are against the change, as they feel the traditional Pride accurately and clearly represents the LGBTQ+ community there best.

According to a change.org petition, supporters of the traditional flag designed by Gilbert Baker said “We at the Gilbert Baker Foundation support all LGBTQ+ community flags. But this flagpole is not the place to fly them. We have urged community leaders and politicians to find room in the area for another flagpole to display community flags. But five members of the Cultural District Board have refused to compromise.”

Castro LGBTQ Cultural District released the following statement:

The Castro LGBTQ Cultural District (CQCD) strives to preserve, sustain, and promote the queer history and legacy of the Castro District of San Francisco.

With this in the forefront of our minds, we believe it is absolutely time for us to show our Black, Brown, and Trans siblings how much representation matters to us on this board by raising a contemporary pride flag that prioritizes and highlights diversity & inclusivity, atop Harvey Milk Plaza.

We are committed to celebrating the trailblazing culture of art and to share a vision of hope that helps build resilience as we continue to deal with COVID-19 and the racial reckoning that has been long overdue, for LGBTQ+ people in the Castro using an inclusive and empowering racial and gender equity lens.

Just as the term “Gay” was coined within our community to showcase varied historically marginalized queer populations; time and awareness called queer leaders and community stake holders to envision an acronym that builds us all up as members of a powerful LGBTQ+ coalition.

In that vein, the future flag we seek to fly proudly at the gateway of Castro’s Main Street does not take away from the legacy of Gilbert Baker and the Gay Rights movement of our queer predecessors, but honors that legacy by affirming our emerging and intersecting racial and sexual, gender and non-binary identities, while acutely addressing the current realities we collectively face today.

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