South Korea

US embassy removes its Black Lives Matter banner and rainbow flag


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The US Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, has removed a large rainbow flag that staff hung outside its building, along with a Black Lives Matter banner. CNN reports that the request to take down the BLM banner – just a couple of days after it went up – came from the office of Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo.

During the Obama administration, it became increasingly common for US Embassies around the world to mark Pride month by flying a rainbow flag from flagpoles. However, this practice was ended last year when the Trump administration told embassies to only fly the US flag from exterior flagpoles. It was a directive heralded by Vice President Mike Pence as “the right decision.”

Despite not being permitted to flag the rainbow flag on flagpoles, embassies can display the flag elsewhere inside or outside their buildings.

Related: British ambassador to Poland wears rainbow face mask for LGBTQ rights

According to the Facebook page of the US Embassy in Seoul, the rainbow flag was erected for Pride Month. In a posting on June 1, the embassy said: “The U.S. Embassy is displaying a rainbow banner on our Chancery in support of fundamental freedoms and human rights for all.
#PRIDE2020 #LGBTI #EqualProtection”

Then, on Saturday, the embassy staff added a large Black Lives Matter banner, to hang directly beneath the rainbow flag. On Facebook, a posting read: “The U.S. Embassy stands in solidarity with fellow Americans grieving and peacefully protesting to demand positive change. Our #BlackLivesMatter banner shows our support for the fight against racial injustice and police brutality as we strive to be a more inclusive & just society.”

The US ambassador to South Korea, Harry Harris, posted a message to Twitter to make it clear the decision to hang the BLM banner came with his approval. He said, “I believe in what President JFK said on June 10, 1963, at American University: ‘If we cannot now end our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.’ USA is a free & diverse nation…from that diversity we gain our strength.”

Both the BLM banner and rainbow flag were taken down on Monday. They have now been replaced with a large banner commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Korean War, which began on June 25, 1950.

US Embassy banner commemorating Korean War
(Photo: US Embassy Seoul/Facebook)

According to CNN, Senior State Department leadership requested Harris remove the BLM banner. A source told the news agency the directive came from the offices of Pompeo. They said the reason given was that BLM is a non-profit organization, and the US Government does not promote any specific groups or contributions to particular non-profits.

No reason has been given for why the rainbow flag was removed. It came down just hours before the US Supreme Court announced its landmark civil rights decision, protecting LGBTQ people from being fired at work because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Related: Supreme Court rules in favor of LGBTQ rights in landmark decision