Pride flag on Tacoma Dome sends right message

It’s Pride Week in Tacoma, and we’re proud to say our city is doing it justice.

On Tuesday, local dignitaries harnessed their courage, some of them staring down a lifelong fear of heights, and made their way to the top of the Tacoma Dome. Onlookers stood and cheered in a parking lot below, the sound of their applause muffled by the noise of Interstate 5.

State Rep. Laurie Jinkins of Tacoma acknowledged the narrow climb was nothing short of frightening, but her smile said something different. Her smile said the effort was worth a few harrowing moments.

Decades ago, Jinkins was appointed to the city’s Task Force on Hate Crimes. Since then, she’s heard story after story of crime and abuse endured by members of the South Sound LGBTQ community. We can only imagine how poignant the moment must have been for her and other activists to see a Pride flag on top of Tacoma’s centerpiece, waving under the Stars and Stripes. A watershed moment to be sure.

This isn’t the first year our city has come out loud and proud for LGBTQ rights, but it’s the first time a rainbow flag waves above the Dome. And what a message it sends to residents and to all those passing by: Tacoma is a place of inclusivity.

The flag should also serve as a call to action. Recently released FBI data indicates that hate crimes against members of the LGBTQ community are on the rise nationally. In the past six months, 11 transgender people were fatally shot or killed by other violent means.

To those who’ve raised concerns the flag is too political to fly above city property, we say this: If civil rights for all Americans is too political, you have a problem.

For some, the Pride flag conjures images of big-city parades with people dancing on floats scantily clad in rainbow attire. Sure, that happens, too, but first and foremost the emblem represents hard-won strides made in the name of civil rights. It should signal to all that Tacoma stands in solidarity with the LGBTQ community.

Do we wish it had been flying decades ago? You betcha. But it still comes at an auspicious time.

Last month marked the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, a police raid on a New York City bar known for catering to the gay community. Stonewall became a turning point for LGBTQ individuals across the nation who finally said enough to state-sanctioned brutality and bigotry.

Fifty years ago, supporters were few. Presidents, preachers, politicians and a majority of the public failed to oppose attitudes and laws that relegated the LGBTQ community to second-class citizenship. It was common practice to turn them away from housing, employment and educational opportunities because of who they were and whom they loved.

Things have gotten better, but there’s still work to be done.

Gratitude must be paid to Tacoma’s Rainbow Center and neighboring Oasis Youth Center, two downtown non-profit resources that recognize the effects of discrimination on LGBTQ youth and adults. Family rejection, isolation, homelessness, depression and general lack of support are issues they deal with every day.

Both centers were recently hit with anti-immigrant and racist propaganda, which makes this Saturday’s Pride celebration even more important.

If you go, look for the new group “Free Mom Hugs Tacoma,” now 500 strong on Facebook. They’ll be easily identified by their T-shirts. Kate Compton, a founding member, said their mission is not only to give hugs and support the LGBTQ community, but to fill in at gay weddings as mother or father of the bride or groom.

Thanks to people like them, prejudices are finally dissipating. Will a flag over the Dome change everyone’s perception? No. But visibility matters.