Thursday, August 24, 2006

Saga of the Rainbow Flag: What's really happening in Meade, Kansas

By Diane Silver

This Sunday could be wild in Meade. Fred Phelps and his funeral-picketing minions and MTV's television cameras are scheduled to collide with an "in your face" party at the Lakeway Hotel.

As the controversy over a small-town hotel owner's rainbow flag possibly reaches its peak, I think it's time to think about the real meaning of what started in July and now threatens to turn into a circus.

Since that time, the symbol of gay rights that JR and Robin Knight flew at their Lakeway Hotel has been cut down and stolen, and a brick with the word "fag" has been thrown through their window. Another brick with the message "get the fuck out of town" was found outside their hotel. The Kansas and national media along with the blogosphere has provided extensive coverage of the controversy.

Meanwhile, defenders of Meade have spread out online to state their case. In a nutshell, they say that the villains of this incident are really the people flying the flag.

These folks argue that the Knights have antagonized their neighbors through arguments that have nothing to do with gay rights. Defenders argue that there is no anti-gay effort in Meade, only the frustration of local people who have found themselves at war with a couple from California who don't fit in.

For a good example of this argument see Brian's comment on my post about Small-Town solutions and revolutionary good news.

Personally, I think two things are getting lost in the uproar.

First, whether or not the hotel owners are good neighbors is irrelevant. Attacking a flag that symbolizes the struggle for equality and fairness of millions of Americans sends a political message.

That message is that the people of Meade condone hatred and support unfair laws that hurt the children and families of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered citizens.

I am a lesbian, and to put it much more bluntly ...those attacks on the rainbow flag say that the allegedly good people of Meade want to hurt my son and my family.

That's because the current laws in this country, and most particularly in Kansas, hurt us in a myriad of ways. These laws rip children away from their parents, keep spouses from visiting each other in the hospital, create financial havoc in the lives of law-abiding citizens.

These tragedies occur every day. This is why people are upset about attacks on the rainbow flag, and are uplifted by the fact that people in a small town in the middle of nowhere Kansas would fly it.

I can't judge whether the Knights, a heterosexual married couple, are good neighbors. I suspect they are. However, that's for the Knights and the people of Meade to sort out. If the folks of Meade have a problem with the Knights, though, then the solution is to protest the Knights, not their flag.

Second, I am personally distressed that the Knights are apparently planning to greet Phelps and the members of his Westboro Baptist Church with a party. The plan for the party was reported by The Wichita Eagle:

Protesters will picket the hotel at noon Aug. 27. Westboro Bapitist Church also will protest against five Meade churches from 9 a.m. to noon Aug. 27.

Bring it on, say the Knights.

"We're going to have a party -- kind of 'in your face,' you know," JR Knight said.

He plans to put up a DJ station on a balcony behind where the flag is flying and play loud music during the protest. The Knights also plan fun with bubbles and beach balls.

I heartily applaud the Knights for their courage and their pledge to keep the rainbow flag flying despite attacks on their property. However, if the article in The Eagle is accurate, then I fear that the struggles the rainbow flag symbolizes will be trivialized.

Our battle for equality is not a reason for a party. The pain that Phelps and the members of his church spread is not a joke. There is, in fact, no reason for anyone to be laughing, dancing or batting around beach balls.

If we lived in a world where people believed my family has as much right to exist as a heterosexual family, then none of this would matter.

If we lived in a world where people disagreed with Phelps message as much as they disagree with his methods, then I wouldn't even be writing about this. Whatever arguments may be occurring in Meade would be merely local.

If that were the case, I'd bring my own beach ball to the party.

1 comment:

Brian said...

I do want reiterate that not all the blame for the uproar rests with the Knights. As I said in my comment to the previous column, neither side has been innocent, and neither side has treated each other fairly in my opinion based on what little I know. It's such a mess, that I can't give you a scorecard and claim one side is worse than the other, I just know there's enough blame to go around.

And to make matters worse, as you noted, the Phelps gang from the tiny little Westboro Baptist Church is on the way. They plan to protest five churches as well as the Knights. At least this will demonstrate the churches of Meade and the city of Meade are not part of the extreme bigotry of people like Fred Phelps.

Of course, when someone throws a brick through a window (can you get anymore stereotypical than that?) it drowns out the other stories of people who have gone out of their way to show love and respect to the Knights. It's unfortunate that those stories are not newsworthy.

Anyway, I agree certainly that issues surrounding gay rights are important to address as a nation, and since they are, even when brought up in a disingenious manner, they are nevertheless too important to be ignored. I understand that, and I think the people in Meade Kansas understand that as well. We can disagree and discuss and debate while still loving each other as human beings.

It's just sad to see everything degenerate into protests and anger when we'd rather deal with these questions in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

Whether I agree with someone or not, God Himself will not force you to believe in Him. And Jesus died for everyone, not just the people I get along with, and/or agree with.