Congressional Democrats touched off a firestorm early this week as several in their number displayed transgender pride flags outside their office doors beside customary United States and individual state flags.
The event turned into a public relations nightmare when word got around that a handful of the Democratic lawmakers not only displayed the controversial flags, but outright removed traditionally displayed POW/MIA flags to do so.
The National Center for Transgender Equality kickstarted the trend, delivering the flag displays to congressional Democrats for the week of the International Transgender Day of Visibility. According to Human Rights Campaign — a lobbying group self-described as “America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer equality” — the Day of Visibility, March 31, was first celebrated in 2009.
Democratic Rep Lori Trahan of Massachusetts appears to have been the first to show her support for the cause by posting a photograph of her office’s display to Twitter late Monday afternoon:
I am proud to hang the transgender pride flag outside my office this #TransVisibilityWeek. Transgender people deserve dignity and our respect as our loved ones, our colleagues, and our fellow Americans. Glad @TransEquality helped bring this visibility to the halls of Congress. pic.twitter.com/HGpvN7sKKw
— Congresswoman Lori Trahan (@RepLoriTrahan) March 25, 2019
As numerous other Democrats took to Twitter to do the same, the National Center for Transgender Equality made a statement of its own, thanking the Democrats for their support and resolving to retweet any congressperson who posted their own display to social media:
3/ We’ll be RTing and QTing members of Congress all week as they show up for their trans constituents and hang a flag for trans visibility. Our rights as a community must no longer be ignored. Watch #WontBeErased and #TransVisibilityWeek all this week for more. pic.twitter.com/5uqV7JV6mX
— National Center for Transgender Equality (@TransEquality) March 26, 2019
Among those who interacted by posting displays of their own, or expressing verbal support, were Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein and well-known politicians such as Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Flordia, Adam Smith of Washington, Kim Schrier of Washington and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.
Discrimination has no place in our society. I am proud to display this flag as a symbol of my support for transgender people across the country. We must stand with transgender people in all of our communities. pic.twitter.com/W6Esa16vzP
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) March 26, 2019
As a proud member of the @LGBTEqCaucus, I will do everything I can to make sure transgender people #WontBeErased by violence, fear or prejudice. I am committed to safety and equality for all. #TransVisibilityWeek pic.twitter.com/eB9nihPsaI
— Rep. Kim Schrier (@RepKimSchrier) March 27, 2019
According to The Hill, several other popular Democrats made sure to take part in the movement but did not make ceremonial tweets to show their support. Among them were Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
Backlash followed soon after, however, as several Twitter followers and journalists on site noticed that a number of the flags had been hung at the expense of National League of Families’ Prisoner of War/Missing in Action flags — which have hung outside the offices of congressional lawmakers for decades.
The POW/MIA flag displays have been subject to controversy over the years as lawmakers have argued over the implications of non-governmental organization flags being hung at congressional offices and buildings, as well as what such displays are understood to mean.
Still, despite minor disputes, the POW/MIA flags are fixtures most members of Congress feel should always be present and visible.
In fact, it is deemed so important by some lawmakers that bipartisan legislation was introduced by Sens. Tom Cotton and Elizabeth Warren recently to, among other things, make the POW/MIA flag a legally permanent fixture beside the United States and state flags on key government buildings.
With such overwhelming support in the United States for the military veterans and their families, the backlash came quick and from every corner of the web. Countless individuals used Twitter to express feelings ranging from disappointment to outright anger.
While some expressed general disapproval for the transgender flag display, most were purely angered by Democrats willingness to so easily dispense with the POW/MIA flag — particularly with March 29 being Vietnam War Veterans Day:
Love how this fails to mention that it's replacing the POW/MIA flags on…wait for it..NATIONAL VIETNAM VETERANS DAY. Great to know that transgender people are somehow more important than the brave men and women who sacrificed everything for this country.
— The_HoffMan (@JackBre57624840) March 29, 2019
The Dems removed the POW/MIA flag for the Transgender flag. This occurred on the week that they were honoring the Vietnam war Veterans day. This is just another kick in the groin for all my brothers and sisters but more for my brothers & Sisters who didn't make it home ! pic.twitter.com/bUmkCrlkJw
— John T. Erskine (@bjersk) March 29, 2019
Despite the increase in social media pushback, most Democratic lawmakers have not moved to adjust their displays and return the POW/MIA flag; nor have any apologies been issued.
Schrier’s office did, however, inform The Washington Free Beacon that the POW/MIA flag had not been removed permanently, saying, “We were asked to fly the Transgender Equality flag by the National Center for Transgender Equality this week ahead of Transgender Visibility Day on Sunday … Our POWMIA flag has been in the Congresswoman’s office this week. And will be back outside our office tomorrow.”
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