It’s not difficult to find a country that discriminates against gays. At least 14 nations impose the death penalty for homosexuality, including U.S. allies Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Only about 27 (all democracies) recognize same-sex marriage. That leaves it to the world leaders of freedom, equality and democracy to shine a light on LGBTQ rights and demonstrate to those less enlightened countries still caught in medieval views that times have changed for the better. One small way to achieve that is to fly the rainbow flag, the symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer rights, and especially to fly it during June, which is Pride Month.
That’s why it was disappointing that the State Department has chosen to refuse requests to fly rainbow flags by a number of U.S. embassies overseas. Their ambassadors made the request to fly the pride flag below the U.S. flag on “public-facing flagpoles” to underscore their nation’s commitment to human rights. It was a request routinely granted when Barack Obama was president. But now, apparently, the U.S. is shrinking from its human rights leadership of the past even as President Donald Trump is giving lip service — or perhaps “tweet” service — to gay rights, suggesting that he fully supports them (although apparently not in public view).
“As we celebrate LGBT Pride Month and recognize the outstanding contributions LGBT people have made to our great Nation, let us also stand in solidarity with the many LGBT people who live in dozens of countries worldwide that punish, imprison, or even execute individuals....” the president posted on Twitter on May 31.
This week, Vice President Mike Pence defended the State Department’s actions on the grounds of patriotism, suggesting that the U.S. flag alone should fly on embassy flagpoles. But that ignores the policies of the past that gave ambassadors some leeway on matters of human rights, not to mention the vice president’s own homophobia including his support of allowing businesses and individuals to discriminate against gays and lesbians on religious grounds. A wholehearted defender of equality, Mr. Pence is not.
Nor is this the first time the State Department’s support for gay rights has been called into question. The department has already eliminated the position of special envoy for gay rights and is in the process of creating a commission on “unalienable rights” that emphasizes “natural law and natural rights” that may or may not extend to those promoted under the rainbow banner. Refusing the rainbow flag is a major departure from the past. Under the Obama administration, the State Department would actually encourage embassies to celebrate gay pride in some manner. And it’s clear some embassies and missions have continued the trend with displays of some kind in South Korea, India, Israel and Brazil, according to press reports.
As much progress as the LGBTQ community has made in recent years, there are also worries of a retreat and not just abroad or in countries that recognize sharia law. More than half of U.S. states allow discrimination based on sexual orientation, particularly in matters of housing, services and employment. That’s not true in Maryland, but anti-gay sentiment is not difficult to find. On Tuesday, local radio station WCBM-AM ran a paid commentary by former Anne Arundel County Councilman Michael Anthony Peroutka accusing the Baltimore Orioles of supporting “perversity” by daring to hold an LGBTQ Pride Night this Wednesday at Camden Yards (although, technically, his ire is at least a year late since the ball club conducted its first such theme night last year and there’s been an “Out at Wrigley” celebration in Chicago every year since 2001).
Mr. Peroutka’s views are probably not widespread — at least not in this state and this century — given that Major League Baseball reports that 30 of their 32 teams are hosting a “pride night” of some form this season. Pew Research Center polls show support for gay marriage has essentially flip-flopped in 15 years, going from a majority against it to a hefty majority (61 percent of Americans) for it. Yet when we hide our support of gay rights — whether by taking down flags in front of embassies abroad or diminishing equivalent efforts in our own neighborhoods, we concede ground to the haters and those who see nothing wrong with discriminating against individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Shame on the Trump administration for failing to live up to this nation’s sacred obligation to promote human rights.