J.R. and Robin Knight run the Lakeway Hotel Bed and Breakfast in Meade, Kansas. As TV station KBSD reported on July 20, J.R.'s 12-year-old son bought a rainbow flag at a Wizard of Oz Museum. Nobody involved realized that rainbow flags are a nearly universal symbol for LGBTQ pride and support of diversity until the local radio station started making a fuss. The community is not one, evidently, to tolerate even a mistakenly-hoisted symbol of tolerance for non-heterosexuals who think they have the right to lead their own lives. (Plenty of further stories, by the way, on these Google searches: web and news.)
The Knights, however, were not as horrified as their neighbors to learn the flag's more common connotation. So they are standing their ground, keeping the flag up, and receiving all sorts of harrassment, much of it coming, I'm sorry yet not surprised to learn, from self-described Christians, who seem to be overlooking all that stuff about not casting the first stone, loving your neighbor as yourself, etc., etc.
I was particularly struck by this comment in the KBSD story:
Local resident, Keith Klassen says the flag is a slap in the face to the conservative community of Meade. “To me it's just like running up a Nazi flag in a Jewish neighborhood. I can't walk into that establishment with that flag flying because to me that's saying that I support what the flag stands for and I don't," says Klassen.I'm assuming, perhaps incorrectly, that Mr. Klassen is a "Bible-believeing" Christian, and that his thinking is influenced by the conservative religious/movement which believes that the U.S.A. was founded to be a Christian country and that much of the country's prosperity now and in the future is inextricably linked to the extent to which it institutionalizes and enforces "Biblical morality." Whatever his personal religious views, the idea that those not following the current popular understanding of "traditional" and "Biblical" morality (I say "current" since other moral positions thought not that long ago to be Biblical, regarding issues such as women's rights, slavery, and racial equality, are no longer in fashion among most fundamentalists and Evangelicals) are a threat to the health of society as a whole is a powerful one, shaping the politics of many.
Klassen's "running up a Nazi flag in a Jewish neighborhood" comment really stuck with me. Sure, they are flying a flag which offends the values of many of their neighbors. But other than that, Klassen has it backwards.
What the Knights are doing much more the equivalent of flying an Israeli flag in a neo-Nazi neighborhood.
The rainbow flag symbolizes inclusion, diversity, mutual respect and tolerance, and celebration of different people living together as theirselves. The rainbow flag says lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and otherwise "queer" people have the right to live openly, safely, and free of harrassment. It is a statement about the equality of all people.
Nazis and neo-Nazis, on the otherhand, believe in the superiority of one group of people over the other. The Nazis exterminated millions of people whom they decided were inferior and represented a threat to the "master race." The Nazi flag represents the perpetrators of the Holocaust. The Nazi flag represents facisim and murder and genocide.
Are those harrassing the Knghts acting more like neo-Nazis or Jesus?
Meanwhile, many people around the country are sending messages of support, and even contributions, to the Knights as they experience a loss of local business. That's a great thing about the internet, isn't it? We can find out quickly about incidents of harrassment and do something to help out.
By the way, I am NOT NOT NOT saying that Mr. Klassen or anyone else in Meade is a Nazi. I don't like these "like a Nazi" comparisions anyway; it trivializes the Holocaust. Mel White, of Soulforce, taught me long ago to think the best of those with whom I disagree and to understand that those who campaign against equal rights for LGBTQ people as good people who are well-meaning, afraid, and misinformed. What the folks in Meade need is less condemnation and more interaction with a variety of nice, out LGBTQ folks and learn that we are human, too, and quite often great to hang out with. By not giving in to the fears and prejudices of the people who are their neighbors, the Knights are doing something very important for their community. I'd say bless 'em, but it seems as if they already are.