Elizabeth Taylor, Pride Flags and Public Squares

I have a feeling I’m about to wade into the deep end. There has been some controversy about who makes decisions about the Gay Pride flag located at the corner of Castro and Market St. in Harvey Milk Plaza.

Pride Flag at Harvey Milk Plaza. Photo Credit: Matt Fuller

Specifically, Michael Petrelis is upset that the flag wasn’t lowered to half-mast to mourn the death of Elizabeth Taylor.

Now, to make things even more exciting, he’s lodged a request that the American flag be flown in place of the pride flag on May 22, aka Harvey Milk Day (Harvey Milk was a Navy veteran).

There’s a lot that strikes me as ridiculous about this entire argument, and plenty more that I don’t understand.

I don’t understand why a private neighborhood organization gets to choose what flag flies and at what level in a public square. That said, I think it’s pretty damn cool that there is a huge gay flag flying in the Castro in a public square. Even in 2011 there are plenty of places in America – and across the world – where that would never happen. While whatever the current “caretaker” system for maintenance and decision-making is might be far from ideal, we’d be stupid and petty not to be thankful that the decision at least lies with a neighborhood group and not a nameless bureaucrat hidden somewhere in city hall.

I don’t understand why a private neighborhood organization is paying the insurance costs for a public flag on public property. Steve Adams, President of Merchants of Upper Market, says that the group spends approximately $5,000 per year on insurance, which just strikes me as odd.

I don’t understand why the Merchants of Upper Market group is being described as a group of “powerful local merchants.” I mean, for the love of whoever you worship, these folks are small business-people who work really hard to earn a living. They aren’t the gay mafia. Those that I’ve met care deeply about maintaining and contributing to a welcoming neighborhood that is visited by hundreds of thousands of men and women from across the world every year. The internecine cat-fighting is bitchy and counter-productive. Let’s not forget the bigger picture, my friends.

And finally, in case you happen to wonder about my personal opinion in all of this: I think that flying the flag at half-mast for Elizabeth Taylor, incredible AIDS activist that she was, is ridiculous. There are plenty of ways to honor our activists and allies, and an argument about how high off the ground a big gay flag is going to fly doesn’t – to me – seem to be the best one of them.

While I don’t question anyone’s right or desire to honor the work and memory of Elizabeth Taylor, at this point it feels to me like a convenient opportunity to take a cheap shot at a neighborhood group.

Build a shrine at Castro and 18th Street – or anywhere else in the neighborhood.

Organize a parade through the neighborhood.

Print t-shirts with your favorite slogan, quote or memory.

Reserve a park and hold a memorial service.

Call the Sisters and organize a charity event.

There’s plenty we can do to honor her memory and continue the fight for AIDS treatment and research.

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