Fit for Print: The warm familiarity of the rainbow flag

By : Steve Blanchard
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Recently, and for the first time in my life, I traveled to another country. My husband and I spent two weeks in Ireland, where we toured historic sites, drank plenty of Guinness and mingled with the locals in several of the country’s beautiful cities and towns. It was truly the trip of a lifetime and one I would do again in a heartbeat.

Ireland is a welcoming country and was the first country to legalize same-sex marriage by a popular vote back in 2015. Knowing that marriage equality was voted into place by the citizens of the country, I knew that we would be welcomed and respected as a couple. In fact, we didn’t see or hear any negativity toward the LGBTQ community during our travels.

One interaction in particular stands out to me. We were seated in a small restaurant in a rural town in southern Ireland when our server, who also happened to be the owner of the establishment, greeted us, took our orders and then inquired about our visit.

Neither of us have an Irish accent; it was obvious we were a couple. When we shared our story she jokingly called herself “Sherlock” for having deduced we were two gay boys from the United States on holiday even before we had a chance to introduce ourselves.

Our conversation covered everything from her time living in California with a boyfriend eight years ago to the current political climate in the United States (which she described for those living outside of the U.S. as watching a “slow-motion car crash with the driver purposely acting a fool”).

After our meal, she even delivered two glasses of complimentary champagne to our table. I can’t think of a nicer way of welcoming travelers from another country.

Toward the end of our trip, we spent several days in the capital city of Dublin, which was preparing for its annual Pride festival. As we walked past City Hall, we saw not one, but two same-sex couples celebrating their recent vows. Two beautiful women in wedding dresses crossed the street hand-in-hand in front of us with a throng of cheerful family members and friends behind them. Just two or three minutes later, two men dressed in suits exited City Hall and repeated the ritual.

All of this unfolded underneath several rainbow Pride flags that had been raised above the city earlier in the month. I have been to many Pride festivals both locally and in other parts of the United States. It was fascinating to observe Pride from a new perspective. I saw it from a global scale.

As we explored the city, we saw those same colors everywhere. They were displayed outside pubs, above the doors of cafes, on top of taxis and even emblazoned along the entire length of a commuter train passing through downtown. With very little text, all of these signaled one thing: “everyone is welcome in this city.” We even found Pride-specific clothing in several different shops and we walked away with “Dublin Pride” shirts, even though we left the country before the big event.

Of course, we have cities that do similar acts of Pride in the States. St. Pete throws down the rainbow carpet every June in honor of National LGBTQ Pride Month and St. Pete Pride. Tampa also celebrates with Pride flags, particularly in the fabulously gay friendly section of Ybor City. In October, downtown Orlando becomes awash in rainbow colors. Of course, large metropolitan areas are also known for their acceptance; San Francisco and New York come to mind as examples.

But traveling out of the country, navigating narrow streets (while driving on the left, I must add) and using unfamiliar currency, I took great comfort in seeing the familiar symbol of equality in the rainbow flag. Pride is global.

It may sound hokey to some, but every time I saw the Pride flag I smiled. It made me feel incredibly safe and very welcomed. I admit that there are times when I take the familiar symbol of the LGBTQ community for granted. Rainbow flags used to just mean I was in an LGBTQ-friendly bar. As I get older and experience more of what life has to offer, I have developed a stronger understanding of its history and what it can mean when everything else around you is unfamiliar.

We just wrapped up Pride Month, and I’m sure there were plenty of people talking about how they don’t need to wave a rainbow flag to celebrate who they are. That may be true, and I don’t always have a rainbow flag readily available in my daily life.

But it’s important to remember what the flag represents and how a glimpse of it can change one person’s perspective on not only an individual or a business, but on an entire city or country.

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