Update: The rainbow flag was up for almost four weeks. Not sure what time it was removed but it was gone on Sunday 7/7/16.
[Note: Almost all the links to Ravelry in this post require a (free) login. If by chance you’re a fiber artist who hasn’t heard of the site, join us!]
This post is ostensibly in response to a complaint letter that another Raveler posted to his blog about Ravelry’s decision to fly the rainbow pride flag early this year to show love and support for LGBTQI Ravelers of which there are many. But as my friend Abby Franquemont (abbysyarns on Ravelry, @abbysyarns on Twitter) has already written a detailed response (Share, Retweet) that I can’t improve upon, I don’t feel there’s any need for me to do a point by point response. I encourage everyone to read it, but note that if you are a conservative religious person her post may be hard to read. She is angry and she does not mince words. (Update: Abby has written a great follow-up talking about why she responded: On Silence, Speaking Up, and Social Media.) I will quote from the original letter but I’ll mostly be talking about the larger issues and the meaning of the flag.
If for accessibility reasons you need to read the original letter on a website, it is here: “Open letter to Ravelry“. If you don’t want to give him the web traffic, you can read it via screencap here. Note that comments are closed on his blog so it’s not possible to respond to him publicly. However, his comments policy says that if you disagree with him he would prefer you contact him privately. Some people have been sending him feedback on Twitter. Like Abby I support his right to free speech, but free speech doesn’t mean free from consequences. However, I don’t support personal attacks or harassment. He is a person and a member of the fiber arts community. Call me unreasonable, but I feel like adults ought to be able to have conversations with people they disagree with without resorting to name-calling and harassment. I know it’s the Internet and it’s difficult to be respectful in the face of such open hostility but insults never make the situation better.
Since 2014, Ravelry has put up a tiny rainbow pride flag on their logo for a few days in June, using the ‘l’ as a flagpole. Every year Ravelry’s choice to fly the rainbow flag during the month of June has created some controversy on the site. This year was no exception but most of the controversy is happening off Ravelry on the wider Internet. (June has been LGBT Pride Month in many places for many years. Since 2009, it has been officially declared by President Barack Obama with a presidential proclamation.)
In 2014, Ravelry raised the rainbow flag to mark the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall riots at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. Stonewall is considered by many to be the beginning of the modern LGBT rights movement. I think the flag was up for several days.
In 2015, they put up the flag a day early and left it up longer than the year before to celebrate the US Supreme Court marriage equality win in Obergefell v. Hodges. People like to think the United States is really advanced but when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights, we are behind. This decision made us the 22nd country in the world to have marriage equality throughout the country. Prior to the Supreme Court decision 37 (out of 50) states and the District of Columbia had marriage equality.
This year, on Sunday, June 12th, the day of the massacre at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, Ravelry raised the rainbow flag again. Most likely they would have put it up around the Obergefell v. Hodges and Stonewall anniversaries anyway, but they decided this was the right time to raise it. This year there’s a new addition – if you hover over the flag with your mouse pointer, the words “We love you” pop up.
Every year there has been a thread on the For the Love of Ravelry forum, (one of the main six discussion boards on Ravelry) in which they have suspended the usual rules of no political or religious discussion (2014 thread, 2015 thread – both are worth reading but they are very long). Every year the threads start off as a “thank you” thread to Casey Forbes, co-owner and “code monkey”, the man directly responsible for writing the necessary code to make the rainbow flag appear. Every year some folks drop by to express their displeasure with Ravelry for doing so. I believe these objections have always been on religious grounds (mainly, if not all, from Christians).
This year they chose to moderate the flag thread very heavily in the first few days and the first person who stopped by to express their disagreement was dimmed (meaning their post is grayed out with a message on top of it explaining why it was moderated), although not before some discussion had ensued. Those of us who responded to them were also dimmed. I don’t know if the Raveler who posted the letter to his blog realized that his disagreement would not be welcome in the thread or if he posted it to his blog so that his readers and the public could see it or if he posted it outside Ravelry to avoid engaging with Ravelers who disagreed with him. Whatever the reasons, shortly after posting it to his blog, he locked comments, perhaps because they were only disagreeing with him. (Update 7/2/16: There is further discussion in a separate flag thread which is now locked.)
Someone on Ravelry found his letter and it started making the rounds on Twitter and Ravelry and probably other social media sites I’m not on. It’s clear that he’s extremely confused about what the rainbow flag represents and why on earth Ravelry would choose to raise it in support and solidarity with LGBTQ+ Ravelers or those members of the community who are relatives of LGBTQ+ people. He calls the flag “divisive and controversial”, imagines that it is a “symbol of hate”, states that it is “not a symbol of acceptance or equality”, and states his belief that it is “hurtful and offensive” to “many Jewish, Muslim and Christian people who participate in Ravelry.” He even went so far as to include a quote from Gilbert Baker, the designer and maker of the original flag, to “prove” his point. The quote was taken from “A Brief History of the Rainbow Flag“.
“The flag is an action – it’s more than just the cloth and the stripes. When a person puts the Rainbow Flag on his car or his house, they’re not just flying a flag. They’re taking action.”
Ravelry responded quickly in a comment on his blog and on Twitter.
What the Rainbow Flag Represents
I actually was pretty ignorant of the flag’s history until the 2014 flag thread. I think all I knew was that it had originated in San Francisco decades ago and that it once had more colors than it has now. Thanks to kathynancygirl ( Twitter, Instagram) who posted The Gay Betsy Ross, a short documentary about the history of the flag, I and other Ravelers learned the history of the flag. The film is short and I encourage everyone to watch it.
The rainbow flag was created in 1978 by Baker at the encouragement of his friend, Harvey Milk, “the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California.” (Milk is probably most known for having his life cut short at age 48 when he was assassinated at the end of 1978 by a former colleague.) At the time, the primary symbol the gay community had was the pink triangle, which had been used by the Nazis as concentration camp badges for gay prisoners. Activists were trying to reclaim the symbol but given its association with the Holocaust, it wasn’t really an uplifting and empowering symbol for the community.
Baker knew what it had to be:
“I didn’t even think twice about what the flag would be. A rainbow fit us – it is from nature, it connects us to all the colors, all the colors of sexuality, all the diversity of our community.” (video)
The flag made its debut on June 25, 1978 at the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade. The original flags were made with cotton that was hand-dyed with organic dyes by Baker and his friends. When he switched to mass production, the original eight colors were reduced to seven due to lack of availability of hot pink flag fabric. By 1979, turquoise was also cut, leaving six colors: red, orange, yellow, green, royal blue, and violet (purple).
I found some of the discussion on the 2014 and 2015 flag threads instructive. Although I have some conservative relatives, we’ve never talked about how they view the rainbow flag. I learned that some Christians mistakenly believe that the rainbow flag is THE symbol of the fight for marriage equality. Upon learning that wasn’t the case, at least one Raveler left the conversation feeling less upset about it.
What the flag is not:
- The symbol of the fight for marriage equality. – Yes, you’ll see this flag everywhere people are protesting for marriage equality but it’s not exclusively the flag of that fight.
- The symbol of the fight for transgender bathroom usage. – Yes, you’ll see this flag everywhere people are protesting for transgender people to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity but it’s not exclusively the flag of that fight.
- A symbol of hate/persecution against Christians, Muslims, Jews, and other devoutly religious people. (I don’t even know where people get this idea from. Some LGBTQ+ people are also religious.)
“A true flag isn’t designed, it’s torn from the soul of the people. What makes a flag different than a logo or really any other work of art is the way that people project onto it their own values and their own ideas. They are a form of free speech. You put up a flag on your house, you put it on a bumper sticker, you know,you wear your t-shirt to school – you’re saying something. It’s a direct action that people are taking all around the world today with the rainbow flag.” (video)
The rainbow pride flag is a symbol of solidarity that unites a community that really doesn’t have that much in common other than being gender and sexual minorities. There are many other flags for groups who fall under the LGBTQ+ umbrella but the rainbow flag is the one that unites us all. It is also common for allies (including Christians, Muslims, Jews, and other religious people) to fly, wear, and display the rainbow flag to show solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community.
“Together we’re changing our world, our planet, from a place of hate and violence and war to a place of love and diversity and acceptance. And that is why we’re here. I mean that’s the big long rainbow from before me to well after me.” (video)
Why Ravelry’s Support is so Crucial
I’m a recovering evangelical Christian. I’m also bisexual and bicraftual (I knit and crochet among other fiber/textile pursuits). I’m AAPI and femme and usually pass as straight. While some members of the LGBTQ+ community (like myself) live lives of relative privilege and safety, because of our race, our immigration status, our gender presentation, where we live, how much money we have, who our friends & family are, the laws of our state (which don’t protect LGBTQ+ people equally across the US), and who we are or are not partnered with, many of us live in daily fear for our lives. We have to think about how we dress when we go out. We have to think about whether it’s safe to hold our partner’s hand. Safe to hug? Safe to kiss? We have to choose our words and pronouns carefully when talking about our friends and partners at work and with family. We don’t know when we enter a business if we will be served. We don’t know when we enter a public bathroom if we can pee in peace. We are harassed on the street, at work, at home. We fear losing our jobs if we marry our partners and our employers find out (not all states have legal protections against this).
We endure everyone from total strangers to close family telling us we’re going to hell (this happened to me on Ravelry). Mothers pull their children away from us when we display even the smallest affection for our partners (this happened to me in a sculpture park). Parents threaten to or actually follow through with throwing us out of the house and/or disowning us. We are subjected to “therapy” which tells us we can change if we pray hard enough. We are told that we are an abomination, that our love is an abomination. We are asked invasive personal questions about our bodies, our love lives, our sex lives. We (and sometimes our children) are denied healthcare by all sorts of healthcare providers (due to our sexuality, our gender presentation, our HIV/AIDS status). We are denied legal rights afforded to others.
I don’t personally live with all of these fears and problems but I’m using “we” because the fact that any of us has these problems is a problem for all of us. People often say, “But it’s 2016!” “You guys won marriage equality!” Yes, that’s true, but in 2016, 49 people were killed and 53 were injured (most of them Latinx and black – it was Latin night) for partying at a gay nightclub. In 2016, religious extremists can say what they want about us without fear. I hate to give them attention but here are some examples of what fundamentalist Christians are saying about the massacre and LGBTQ+ people just days afterwards (I am sure there are a few rabbis and imams saying similar things but I haven’t come across any of them yet.). I don’t believe they are representative of what all Christians believe but these are real religious leaders in charge of real religious organizations (churches and a university), preaching to real people. If you don’t want to watch or read, the tl;dr is that they are celebrating the deaths in Orlando but wished they could be government sanctioned executions or that we’d all just kill each other (LGBTQ+ people and Muslims).
- Pastor Steven Anderson of the Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona. The church is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a legal advocacy organization that tracks extremist groups in the United States.
- Pastor Roger Jimenez of the Verity Baptist Church in Sacramento, California. Christina Peters, his bisexual sister-in-law, has spoken out against his message giving multiple interviews to local media. The church was protested after the video of Pastor Jimenez’s sermon went viral. (Update: Verity Baptist has been asked by their landlord to relocate.)
- The infamous Westboro Baptist Church from Topeka, Kansas, flew to Orlando to protest some of the funerals of those who died at Pulse. Thankfully they were counterprotested. They are also listed as a hate group by SPLC.
- Pat Robertson, well-known televangelist and leader in the Christian right, currently chancellor and CEO of Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virgina, who has consistently worked against LGBTQ+ rights.
Because we don’t always know when we enter a business if we will be served like everyone else, it is so important that Ravelry, as a privately-owned business, lets us know that we are welcome. Not just our knitting, crocheting, spinning, and weaving selves, but all of us. We are welcome to post pictures of our partners and spouses and talk about them on the forums. We are welcome to show off projects made for our LGBTQ+ parents, grandparents, siblings, children, and their partners and spouses. We know that if we encounter hate speech and harassment on the site that it will not be tolerated. These are things that straight people can take for granted anywhere they go. We cannot. That is what Casey meant when he said, “It does *not* go without saying.” So we appreciate everything that Casey and his co-owner & wife, Jess, and their staff and volunteers of Ravelry do to make us feel welcome and safe because for some of us, Ravelry is one of the few safe havens we have where we can be fully ourselves. Ravelry is our Pulse.
There are not enough words to thank Casey and Jess for making Ravelry a safe and welcoming place.
I have compassion for Christians and other religious folk who are somewhere on the spectrum from deeply uncomfortable to deeply hateful towards LGBTQ+ people. If my parents had succeeded in sending me to a Christian college like my mom wanted instead of the very liberal, LGBTQ-friendly, liberal arts college I went to, instead of knowing that I’m bisexual and being comfortable with myself, I could be one of them.
Many Christians are allies, but I know there are also a lot of Christians who are having trouble reconciling the things they’ve been raised to believe, the things they may be currently being taught by their spiritual leaders, and their growing discomfort with how that fits in with the changes in American society. Last year when we won marriage equality many religious people were upset, but this year some find themselves questioning what to believe in the aftermath of what was both the worst mass shooting and the deadliest attack on LGBTQ+ people in US history. Many don’t have any LGBTQ+ people in their lives who they feel comfortable asking questions of. (Protip: If you do have someone in your life you can talk to, don’t call them “homosexual”. Many of us find it offensive.) Yes, a lot of information is available on the web but if you’re not curious enough or tech savvy enough you may not know where to look. In some cases you need to know some basic vocabulary before you could begin searching. If you’re seeking answers I encourage you to look for them. They are out there. You can find them on Wikipedia, on YouTube, with Google. There are forums for LGBTQ+ Christians and other religious folks that can help answer your questions. The Reformation Project is a great resource for Christians.
Here are some of the things I’ve been sharing with my friends and family over the past week.
Matthew Vines, founder of The Reformation Project, offers “advice to Christians on how to love their LGBT neighbors as themselves at this horrible time.” – What Christians Must Do in the Wake of Orlando
Gay writer Nico Lang on the likelihood that the Orlando shooter was a closeted gay or bisexual man – Coming out saves lives: The deadly potential of internalized homophobia is all too real
Rabbi Gil Steinlauf on the importance of recognizing the attack in Orlando as specifically an attack on LGBT people – Gay rabbi: We can all mourn Orlando, but this was terrorism against gay people
Utah’s Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox apologizes for not always being a friend to the LGBT community – Lt. Gov. Cox speaks at vigil for Orlando: ‘My heart has changed’
Nelba Márquez-Greene, mother of a daughter who died in the Sandy Hook, Connecticut massacre in 2012 – Orlando, I Am Sorry Our Tragedy Wasn’t Enough to Save Your Loved Ones
I don’t have a comment policy because I’ve never had enough traffic to need one. This may be entirely unnecessary but just in case:
- You may leave a comment even if you disagree with me.
- Questions that are respectfully worded are welcome.
- I will not approve any comments that contain hate speech, proselytizing, or that are disrespectful to religious people. I know a lot of people have strong feelings about LGBTQ+ people and our rights and religious people but words matter and there are some things which I feel don’t foster productive dialogue. If you sign your comment with your Ravelry username and I don’t post it, I will message you there.
- If you have something to say/ask but don’t wish to leave a public comment you can PM (private message) me on Ravelry. You do not need to friend me to send a message. Or you can email me at curious (dot) threads (at) gmail.