Why Are Conservatives Debating Pride Flags and Not the Worship of Confederate Losers?

By: Kierra Johnson 

Symbolism is having a huge moment in Virginia right now on a couple of fronts, and while the conversations may seem a bit backward, no one should be surprised. During Pride Month, crosswalks in Alexandria, VA were painted the colors of the modernized LGBTQ+ flag. Several other cities, such as Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles, have already done it, but Alexandria, in particular, is getting buzz for the new paint job because many believe that it is supposed to keep the aesthetic of a smaller city in the South–an aesthetic that is usually connected to conservatism and homophobia. Conversations about the crosswalk are being conflated with the LGBTQ+ flags that are being flown in Washington, D.C., and there are people who actually believe that LGBTQ+ identities are corrupt and all forms of the flag are a sign of corruption. 

What’s most interesting about the significant minority of people who have an issue with the flag is that in the same state, there is currently a legal battle about confederate symbology. Those who fought to uphold slavery are being revered, so much so that Mountain View High School voted to restore its name to Stonewall Jackson High, and Honey Run Elementary School changed its name back to Ashby-Lee Elementary School. The names, which were set in place during a time when schools in the South were segregated, pay homage to Stonewall Jackson, Turner Ashby, and Robert E. Lee, all of whom were Confederate commanders. Now, the Virginia NAACP is suing the Shenandoah school district, saying that the change is discriminatory. This sort of symbolism is not only blatantly racist because of its connection to segregation, but even more so because of its connection to slavery. Jackson, Lee, and Ashby supported a near-secession of an entire region so that the free labor that powered the economy wouldn’t be threatened. Now, many people who are romanticizing the Civil War see its key players as heroes of the past that need to be honored rather than symbols of a dark history that should be taught to future generations. 

Ironically, the same people who want to preserve the symbolism of the confederacy are often the same people who oppose historically accurate lessons about the Civil War and LGBTQ+ history. If curriculums were inclusive of queer and trans identities, many more people would know that Pride Month started as a protest. The story of the Stonewall Riots has been diluted and whitewashed many times over, but essentially the gay rights movement owes its beginnings to trans women of color, and LGBTQ+ participants who confronted police for their abuse against the community. The movement grew larger by the year, and while it is known as a massive party today, the heart of Pride is power for marginalized people and resistance. This is represented in the flags, signs, and crosswalks that conservatives despise. It is ironic that those who resisted the anti-slavery movement would be celebrated, while those who resisted abuse and inequality should be reduced to insults about being “corrupt.” 

The response from conservatives about the crosswalks is pure homophobia, just like their response to the renaming of the schools in Shenandoah County is nothing but racism. There is no history of the confederacy that deserves to be honored, and there’s nothing about LGBTQ+ liberation that is corrupt or deserving of backlash from any other communities. LGBTQ+ people deserve to be seen, and their history deserves to be studied alongside other marginalized communities who have contributed to the fabric of the United States. The Shenandoah County School Board is not the only entity with the power to enshrine symbols of the Confederacy, but it is one of the entities that can be influenced locally. Local school board elections matter, and the evidence is in the 5-1 vote that reverted Mountain View High School back to its old name.

Voters have to show up in local elections, especially because so much of local law affects children like the Black students who oppose the name changes. Be sure that you are registered to vote, and when voting in local elections, get others involved as well. Building power starts with small progress locally, but the outcomes can have huge effects.  

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