You can practically hear the gasps of outrage at each new headline.
The NY Post writes, “Pentagon says no Pride flags at US military bases.” “LGBTQ Flag Will Not Be Allowed To Fly At The Pentagon,” says Instinct Magazine. And the collective response to all these headlines is meant to be, “Well, here we go again!”
Except the Pentagon did not wake up some recent spring morning and say, “You know what? Fuck the gays, no rainbows in June!” And though some outlets make a point of writing that this is a Trump-era law, the headlines don’t elaborate on that. While the ordinance prohibiting unofficial flags from flying at the Pentagon came into place last summer, the intent behind it was to prevent the Confederate flag from flying. Without, you know, pissing off Southern voters by specifying the Confederate flag.
Now the Pentagon is upholding that ordinance because to make an exception—even for the corporatized Pride—leads to anarchy. How about we have a conversation about why Pride flags are equated with Confederate flags! But that’s not what anyone is interested in addressing, not when “The Pentagon Refuses to Fly Pride Flags This June” is right there for the clicking.
And besides, writers and outrage stokers are occupied with the contrast between the Pentagon and the State Department. The latter issued a blanket order that Pride flags be flown at embassies around the world—but doesn’t that representation make sense? In countries where homosexuality is at best frowned upon and at worst punishable by death, America needs to be a leader unafraid of publicly displaying pride. And though military facilities could certainly use a little public pride themselves, flying a rainbow flag doesn’t equal anything other than lip service.
But we’re too addicted to indignation to parse what that means. Because as we’re tweeting about the outrageousness of the Pentagon not flying a Pride flag, we’re also sneering at corporations for showing ROYGBV allyship for just 30 days out of every year.
What flies on a flagpole can be indicative of attitudes and it can be meaningful (though you’d think millennials would have killed off flags with top sheets by this point). But flags aren’t opportunities or inclusive hiring practices or institutional support, and it’s foolish to conflate the two. Be outraged at U.S. policies, at the fact that in 2018, the Rand Corp. estimated that only 6.3% of active duty service members identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual. But that’s a lot less fun than taking any excuse for publicly displaying disgust unadulterated by nuance.