hate-ish crimes

What If One Of Our Own Had Burned the NYC LGBT Center’s Rainbow Flag?

On Wednesday morning, a staff member at the New York LGBT Community Center arrived at work to find one of its rainbow flags burned. Glennda Testone from The Center called it “a hate crime,” noting, “Hate and intolerance against LGBT New Yorkers will not be accepted, and we as a community must stand strong and together in the face of these hateful incidents.” Right now, there’s no evidence pointing to who committed the crime. But there’s certainly the possibility the person who burned the flag is from our community. After all, it’s happened before.

Every few years, a stupid Republican politician will propose an anti-flag burning amendment to show how patriotic they are and how much commie liberals hate America with their so-called “free speech.” But few would call burning a U.S. flag “a hate crime,” even though it’s meant to intimidate a subset of people (Americans). Our own citizens have burned U.S. flags to protest of the country’s policies, often foreign-related issues, like Vietnam or Iraq. So viewed this way, burning the rainbow flag could be less about bigotry and more about protest, possibly even from one of our own LGBT brothers and sisters.

For example, “Squicker, the gay revolt Skinhead” says that he burned a rainbow flag in 1997 at the San Francisco Folsom Street Fair:

Not that I have anything against the rainbow flag… [it] is a kind of territorial pissing that marks queer turf… the ability of gays to mobilize in collective self-defense deters the attacks that homosexuals used to suffer more routinely.

But at the same time the rainbow flag is a gimmick to sell things to a captive and enthusiastic audience. No, I have nothing against making a buck. It is just that these things are not sold on their own merits… Gay culture was once a survival strategy and liberation movement and now it is just a marketing gimmick. The slogans of the movement miss the mark, erase the guys I get off with, and make little sense where I live.

Certainly he’s not alone in his feelings about the emptiness of “rainbow marketing”, the illusion of a unified “rainbow community”, or the strangeness that such “rainbow” should have an affluent white guy’s face. Just take a look at Bash Back, the so-called radical queer group that defaces anti-DADT billboards and, possibly, HRC’s headquarters.

That’s not to defend the cowardly NYC flag burner; LGBT people can still carry out hate crimes against their own. But why not use the incident — whether you call it a hate crime or terrorism or polluting the environment by increasing humanity’s carbon footprint — to raise the question about what policies our community embraces at the potential expense of our own?

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  • RomanHans

    And what if a forest creature did it? That would be awful, because they look so cute, and we’ve always assumed they can’t use matches. Wow, thinking up imaginary outcomes is really fun.

  • Amnesia

    Burning a flag (symbol) is a way to send a particular message. There are better, more courageous and CLEARER ways to send a message these days.

    Maybe the person/s who burned the flag were saying that gays are “flaming”? Which is not entirely true. There are some REALLY butch lesbian sistas out there. just saying.

    I say we keep an eye out for each other and don’t let this flag incident bring us down.

  • scott ny'er

    Most of the times, whenever I pass a Gay City News kiosk on the street in my area of NYC, I notice there is trash in there. Several cups of coffee/drinks, paper bags, etc. All the other kiosks are fine. And it’s definitely a message to LGBT people and the newspaper. It just makes me mad.

    This incident reminds me of that.

  • Daniel

    Blogger Joe Jervis from Joe. My. God. puts it well with a different version of related question I raised here:

    “In the reports about this flag burning, it’s being called a hate crime. That seems premature. There’s no idea what the suspects meant. Frat boys on a drunken goof? Gay revolutionaries angry at gay identity? Sure it’s bothersome someone had the nerve to do this at the hub of New York City LGBT life. Tagging it as a hate crime so early in the process dilutes the very meaning of the term. Do we really want to equate flag burning with physical crime?”

  • Joseph Edward

    I considered the point of flag burning as an act of protest, but there has been no voice to step up and stake a claim as to exactly what is being protested. As far as I know, flag burnings are usually done publicly for all to see. That this happened over night demonstrates that this is an act of cowardice.

    It would also have been extraordinarily difficult for this to have been done by a group of drunkards. The flag hangs too high outside of the Center and would’ve required someone to break in to reach it from the second or third floor or have calculated aim.

    As I see it, burning/desecrating/defacing the rainbow flag that flies outside of the Center, which is a safe space for anyone who walks through its doors, is the equivalent of defacing a monument in front of a religious or government institution or burning the flag belonging to an embassy.

    I don’t think this in an issue the LGBTQ community can be lukewarm about. Whether it was a hate crime, demonstration or freak accident, it’s a reminder that we’re at risk of losing the heritage we’ve worked so hard to build in this country and we need to defend it.

  • Jade

    A burned flag hanging for gays, a burning cross or hanging noose for blacks and swastika graffitti for the Jews. All of these things are meant to intimidate, to remind a particular group of people that they are less than the majority. The burning of a Flag in protest is much different than this as it was done under the cloak of secrecy. Some members of the LGBT Community may view the flag as a symbol of white gay america; however the people having that debate are white males. The people who wear the rainbow with pride come from all ethnic, racial and socio-ecomic backgrounds. This act is an indication of the increasing hostility towards the LGBT community in NYC. The more it becomes evident that the LGBT Community will receive the same rights as everyone else the more hostile and dangerous it becomes. I do not view this act with any less hate attatched to it than I would to a burning cross or a noose hanging in the middle of 125th Street.

  • Chitown Kev


    Excellent point.

    I think that if it were one of our own, we would already know that, as they would have identified themselves.

  • scott ny'er

    @Jade: The more it becomes evident that the LGBT Community will receive the same rights as everyone else the more hostile and dangerous it becomes.

    Sadly, I think your statement is true. The haters feel threatened to the point of retaliation. I can see into their tiny minds and how they are probably saying, “i can’t believe those dudes are kissing in front of me, or those woman are holding hands, or those dudes just bought a place that I can’t afford (which is what an old Caucasian woman said about Asians in my building).” and thus the haters come to the conclusion, “well, I’ll fix them” and do something horrible to LGBT peeps. Hatred and intolerance begets violence and/or some wrongful action against us.

    Oh, and I agree with your whole post, Jade.

  • EdWoody

    Glennda Testone? is that a drag name?

  • WiseUp

    Right now it really looks like it could be anyone. There are certainly enough gays in NYC who consider the Gay Center crowd an unpleasant bunch of snots. Myself included.

  • jeffree

    STUPID & POINTLESS desecration. Just burning a flag or any symbol is the act of a coward who cannot express themself otherwise.

    This act may have been committed by anyone from inside OR outside the LGB rights movement. Without some explanation or logic, it’s just the sign of a subverbal malcontent, without much to say other than ME GOOD, YOU BAD.

    Think about the worldwide bombings of busses and subways: Often several “radical” groups claim credit! And often these militia people have very different & opposite “rationales” for their claims: like “organization X is too liberal” or “organization X is too conservative”!

    Whatever message the perps were trying 2 express gets missed out on, because they fight the symbol, not the ideas. It becomes, as engineers say, “NOISE” rather than “SIGNAL”

    Mayhem is not a message!

  • Steve

    We have become accustomed to reports of gay-welcoming churches being burned by arson. There was another one in Texas just last week. I don’t recall many reports of cross-burnings, but that could just be because they are so common they don’t make the national news any more.

    This flag-burning seems particularly stupid, though. Clearly, whoever did it wanted to express animus toward the ideas that are expressed in the gay pride flag. But, he or she should have realized that almost all new flags are made of flame-resistant material.

    The people who originally wanted to outlaw flag-burning couldn’t get that one past the supreme court. So, instead, they passed laws that require new flags to be fireproof. (To be fair, those same laws also require baby clothing, upholstery, draperies, carpet, and a bunch of other things to be flame resistant, so they are not specifically passed to prohibit flag burning.)

  • ewe

    It would not surprise me. I recently was sitting in the LGBT garden and noticed what seemed to be a deliberate racial divisiveness. I do not think it is a generational gap either. There are many young LGBT people who need emotional support from older people who are more comfortable inside and out.

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