In America we have many freedoms to celebrate, in fact, some might say that those freedoms are what separate this country from so many others.

The United States has always been a place where the people have fought diligently to ensure marginalized individuals can fully experience the freedoms and liberties that our nation deems self-evident in the Declaration of Independence. 

Despite the many efforts and sacrifices of so many, we know that there is still work to be done here in Orange County and across the nation to fully realize the vision of “liberty and justice for all.” In fact, hate activity in Orange County is on a multi-year rise, with numbers higher than ever previously recorded. 

In a time when hate and violence seem to dominate headlines, we must ensure the messages and symbols of respect and acceptance are even more seen and heard than ever before. As leaders who also want to see a society where all are free and accepted, we use symbols to communicate our commitment to the safety and wellbeing of all our friends and neighbors.

A symbol that has been used for decades to show this commitment is the Pride Flag. The rainbow-striped Pride flag has lit pathways through darkness and shame for generations of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ+) communities. It represents hope, safety and belonging for everyone who has ever been mistreated or marginalized, discriminated against or attacked for being different. According to Alison Edwards, CEO of OC Human Relations, “In the last OC Hate Crime report we saw an 83 percent increase in hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation bias. When you consider this and efforts across the nation to defame and vilify the LGBTQ+ community, it is crucial that we actively support this community. One way that we signal this commitment is by flying the Pride flag.”

The flag represents the victories and ongoing struggles not just for LGBTQ+ rights, but for human rights—the rights so many never have to think about: to live in peace without the threat of harassment or violence. For members of LGBTQ+ communities, this iconic flag symbolizes unity, inclusion, acceptance and love. For the cities, neighborhoods, businesses and corporations that fly the flag during Pride Month, it’s a clear signal that these doors are open…really open. Come in without fear of judgment, resentment or hate. Instead, expect to be welcomed as you are, valued for your talent and experience and afforded the same opportunities to contribute to your community or workplace. 

The Pride flag has continued to evolve since its debut at the Gay Freedom Day Parade in San Francisco in 1978. Today, many cities fly the Progress Pride flag, which includes light blue, pink and white stripes to represent trans and non-binary individuals, and black and brown stripes in or adjacent to the rainbow pattern to honor LGBTQ+ people of color.

For Uyen Hoang, Executive Director of Viet Rainbow of Orange County the flag matters because, “LGBTQ+ individuals, especially Black, Indigenous, People of Color, (BIPOC) individuals often live in fear and in the shadows of Orange County. National studies have found that publicly displayed rainbow flags give LGBTQ+ individuals joy and a sense of belonging. Flying the Pride flag is not going to change all the challenges that the LGBTQ+ community faces, but it’s a tiny gesture that can make a large impact on one LGBTQ+ individual’s well-being.”

Over time the flag has also evolved to be a symbol of safety and inclusion more broadly. Today, many communities that have been historically excluded and even individuals who don’t “fit in the box” will take the flying of the Pride flag as a cue that they will be safe and welcomed, that those who display this symbol believe in defending and protecting the freedom of each of us to be who we are. 

So, whoever you are, when you see your city, school, friend, house of worship, neighbor or local business fly the Pride flag, you too can share in the pride of a community that strives, even if imperfectly, to be kind, to welcome all, to show that our differences are essential to our success. As Peg Corley, Executive Director of the LGBTQ Center OC put it, “The LGBTQ+ community is the most diverse community in the world. Our community intersects with and embraces every race, ethnicity, religion, political ideology, differing abilities, age, and socio-economic background. Therefore, the Pride Flag is OUR global symbol for diversity.  Flying the Pride Flag is not an us vs. them issue, but simply an us issue. Flying the symbol of diversity is a powerful message – one that lands on the right side of history.”

Together, we can be a force for unity and acceptance. We can ensure that the progress toward a more welcoming and peaceful community continues. Supporting the whole community means supporting fairness and equity for all. Orange County Grantmakers (OCG) Executive Director, Taryn Palumbo expressed her organization’s support of the flag by saying, “OCG is committed to cultivating an equitable and inclusive community for all of Orange County. The Pride flag is a symbol of unity, a welcoming sign that all are welcome in Orange County and its continuing visibility is an important reminder that together we can move towards a more equitable future.”

Whether it’s during Pride Month in June, or all year long, we have come together to make the statement because it’s always the right time to care about each other.

Alison Edwards, (She/Her), CEO, OC Human Relations; Taryn Palumbo, Executive Director, Orange County Grantmakers; Peg Corley (She/Her), Executive Director, LGBTQ Center Orange County; Uyen Hoang (she/they), Executive Director, Viet Rainbow of Orange County (VROC), and endorsed by SSG/APAIT (Asian Pacific AIDS Intervention Team (APAIT), a division of Special Service for Groups, Inc).

Opinions expressed in community opinion pieces belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.

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