Pride flag flies over Tacoma Dome for first time. ‘It’s a big deal,’ says LGBT community

A half century after the modern gay rights movement started in the U.S., a gay pride flag was raised for the first time over the Tacoma Dome Tuesday.

“We need a breeze,” someone in a crowd gathered in the Dome’s parking lot said immediately after the rainbow-striped flag was hoisted up the Dome’s flagpole.

Moments later, a light wind unfurled the flag along with a larger American flag above it. The pride flag — and the U.S. flag — will wave over the Dome for the remainder of July.

On top of the Dome on Tuesday morning were Tacoma City Council member Ryan Mello, Puyallup Tribal Council member Annette Bryan, state Rep. Laurie Jinkins and Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards.

“I’m so proud to be the mayor of a city that would fly the pride flag over its largest structure,” Woodards said. “This deepens our commitment to every member of our community.”

Just as the rainbow flag is raised annually over Seattle’s Space Needle, Tacoma’s civic icon will now sport one as well, organizers said.

“The Dome represents Tacoma and Pierce County and all of the South Sound,” said Manny Santiago, the executive director of the Rainbow Center, the city’s drop-in and resource center for the LGBT community. “It represents that we are becoming more and more welcoming of the diversity of our community. It’s a big deal.”

The rainbow flag celebrates lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) pride. It joined the American flag already in place on the Dome to represent inclusivity, Santiago said.

“Our families are part of the fabric of the American family and that’s what the flag represents,” Santiago said. “We are not substituting one for the other.”

“Symbols really matter,” Mello said. “They certainly matter to our country. It matters to the LGBTQ community.”

About 75 people gathered in the Dome parking lot to witness the flag raising. Jarel Sanders, 26, was one of them.

“It’s really cool to see my city representing LGBT people on such a monumental year,” the life-long Tacoma resident said.

Sanders was referring to the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New Year City that are considered by many to be the launching point for the modern LGBT rights movement.

Gays, transgender people, lesbians, drag queens and others fed up with police harassment and shakedowns, fought back during a police raid on the Greenwich Village bar on June 28, 1969. The riots lasted two nights and empowered LGBT activists.

“To see the flag over the Tacoma Dome ... is a representation of how great the city can be for LGBT people,” Sanders, a social worker, said.

The moment was also inspiring for older members of the LGBT community. Jinkins’s wife, Laura Wulf, watched the raising from the parking lot.

“It’s pretty moving,” Wulf, 57, said. “It’s a big deal.”

Wulf and Jinkins have been together for 31 years. The flag raising was symbolic of progress the LGBT community has made, Wulf said.

“We never thought we’d be able to get married,” Wulf said. “We didn’t know we’d be able to have a child and we have. Things have been amazing.”

Tacoma Pride week begins Friday with another pride flag raising over Tacoma City Hall. The city’s annual pride celebration is on Saturday from noon–6 p.m. on Pacific Avenue between South 7th and 9th streets.

In larger cities, such as Seattle and New York, Pride is observed close to June 28 to commemorate Stonewall. Smaller cities, such as Tacoma, hold Pride either before or after to avoid competing celebrations.

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Craig Sailor has worked for The News Tribune for 20 years as a reporter, editor and photographer. He previously worked at The Olympian and at other newspapers in Nevada and California.