The U.S. Embassy Pride Flag Controversy, Explained

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On the campaign trail during the 2016 election cycle, Donald J. Trump pledged to protect the LGBTQ+ community. Last month, President Trump formally recognized Pride Month for the first time in his presidency. However, controversy has swirled recently about the Trump administration’s directive that U.S. embassies not fly Pride flags alongside the U.S. flag.

Late last week, news broke that the Trump administration has been denying the requests of many U.S. embassies, including those in Israel, Brazil, Germany, and Latvia, to fly Pride flags on their flagpoles. Although these embassies are welcome to raise the Pride flag inside and on exterior walls, some say that blocking Pride flags from being flown on flagpoles is overtly discriminatory. The move may also contrast the Trump administration’s ongoing campaign to decriminalize homosexuality around the world.

By contrast, President Barack Obama universally allowed embassies to fly the Pride flag on flagpoles without having to request approval, as U.S. embassies currently have to do. The request denial issued to Germany may be particularly surprising, given that the U.S. ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, is a leading figure in the Trump administration’s homosexuality decriminalization campaign.

Despite the backlash and confusion with which the Trump administration’s Pride flag directives have been met, figures in his inner circle have defended these denials. According to Morgan Ortagus, the top State Department spokesperson, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is of the firm belief that U.S. embassies should fly only the U.S. flag. Ortagus insisted that U.S. embassies are celebrating Pride Month just fine without having to fly the Pride flag and that other uses of Pride flags and symbols do not violate these flagpole denials.

Vice President Mike Pence has also stood by these denials. In an interview on Monday night, Pence reaffirmed Pompeo’s view that flagpoles at U.S. embassies should be reserved for solely the U.S. flag. During this interview, when asked whether the administration’s flagpole directives contradict the administration’s ongoing efforts against social and legislative homophobia, Pence gave an indirect answer. The vice president insisted that he and President Trump “serve every American.”

Although it seems likely that all future requests to fly Pride flags on U.S. embassy flagpoles will be denied, some embassies are finding other ways to overtly celebrate Pride Month. In Seoul, South Korea and Chennai, India, U.S. embassies are completely defying orders to not fly Pride flags on U.S. embassy flagpoles. In Vienna, Austria, the U.S. embassy’s Facebook page has made its cover photo a massive, rainbow-colored banner with the phrase “Celebrating Pride 2019.” The embassy’s website also boasts a statement in explicit support of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia. Elsewhere, including in Nepal and Israel, embassies are taking to social media to share their Pride celebrations. The Trump administration may be trying to put a damper on Pride flag usage, but U.S. embassies are taking matters into their own hands.

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