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Interim President Jeff Ettinger inside Morrill Hall on Sept. 20, 2023. Ettinger gets deep with the Daily: “It’s bittersweet.”
Ettinger reflects on his presidency
Published April 22, 2024

A rainbow American flag

The combination of a rainbow and the American flag tested a Tennessee university community’s pride.

Eddie Izzard once performed a comedy set where he discussed the tremendous power of national flags. In this set, Izzard, a famed transvestite comedian, talked about how England stole other countries and communities through the “cunning use of flags.” That is, as Izzard proclaims, “No flag, no country!” This is how England colonized and stole the world.

Of course, Izzard is a comedian and given to verbosity. However, the undertone of his set couldn’t be more correct: National flags are symbols of power. I’ve always found the American flag to be a bit of an anachronism. It doesn’t actually represent the demographics of contemporary America. It can be seen as more of a relic of struggle than a guiding beacon. This is especially true in the 21st century, given how the American influence creeps across the globe.

Even attempts to reimagine the flag to represent America are blasphemy. One only need look at Tennessee.

An LGBT group at Middle Tennessee State University recently displayed a rainbow American flag, where the traditional red and white strips were replaced with the rainbow. It sparked outrage. The flag was hung in support of LGBT History Month, celebrated in October.

One local TV news channel viewer wrote, “This is just un-American and against the law.” To say the least, I’m not surprised by this response. It’s un-American to redefine patriotism.

Regardless of what anyone writes into a news station, it isn’t against the law. It’s an act of free speech and protected by the Constitution. People still stomp, burn and “desecrate” the flag. Why would this event strike such a nerve?

I have a 48-star flag that flew over a county courthouse in Arkansas for 47 years. It’s a treasured item for me, and I’ve had it properly presented and hung. Like many Americans, the flag means something to me. It’s a symbol of everything the United States is, should be and can be. But I don’t consider it sacred. Or, perhaps, I don’t consider it sacred in the way we often think of it.

The problem with the flag is that it’s become a symbol of worship. People fawn over the flag like it was a god or religious text. They talk about it in the most revered terms. However, we should not forget that for some, the American flag is more a symbol of oppression than liberty. I’m sure many countries understand the American flag as a symbol to be despised, not worshiped.

Yet if the flag should represent something in the U.S., it should be freedom: freedom to change, to improve and to live.

I applaud the LGBT group at MTSU for changing the flag to represent their pride for both their community and America.

Still, not everyone applauds this act. Someone at MTSU was so upset with the LGBT-inspired American flag that they stole it. In the same part of the U.S. where you’ll find the Confederate flag proudly displayed, a thief absconded with a symbol of America more representative of freedom than the current flag. This makes little sense to me.

If we agree flags are symbols of something, then why would anyone condemn the LGBT-inspired American flag, but not the Confederate flag?

The former stands for inclusivity and equality, and the latter stands in for a time of racism and slavery under the guise of liberty.

Even though the act of stealing the LGBT-inspired flag is disgraceful, it was returned two days later, after being found with another student.

Events like this give a new meaning to southern hospitality. Is this what we should expect from those in the southern United States? Of course not. This is the 21st century, and this sort of outdated ideology and, perhaps, bigotry should not be considered un-American.

I’m not sure I can buy into the notion that we should tolerate others’ intolerance anymore. For years, I followed that line of thought, and it has continued to be harmful. Across the globe, LGBT communities are being oppressed, arrested and terrorized all for simply being who they are.

My frustration is limitless on this issue. The MTSU flag incident highlights the undercurrent of intolerance LGBT communities still face in the U.S. This is the same country that embraces the Statue of Liberty — a beacon with the inscription, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free …”

I’m glad the flag was returned, and I’m glad there are accepting and tolerant people in Tennessee. I just wish they would be more vocal and proclaim their support loudly. Those who are intolerant will only be drowned out by the collective voices of tolerance.

If we are to worship the American flag, we should do so actively and proudly. LGBT identity and patriotism are not mutually exclusive. Combining these two interests is not un-American; rather, it’s a profound symbol of pride and acceptance.

If Izzard is correct, the LGBT community stands to gain a lot of power through the idea of a rainbow American flag. Denying this flag symbolically denies the community of being both American and LGBT.

I’d fly the LGBT-inspired American flag any day. 

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