Joe Mirabella

Why the Pride Flag on the Space Needle Matters

Filed By Joe Mirabella | June 06, 2011 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: pride fest, pride flag, seattle pride, space needle, stonewall

Over the weekend more than 3,000 people signed Josh Castle's petition on urging the Space Needle to fly the Pride flag once needle large pride flag.jpg

Last year the Space Needle made international news when they flew the Pride flag for the first time ever. The message to the rest of the world was clear: Seattle is a welcoming city for all.

This year, the Space Needle informed the community that they will not be flying the Pride flag again, but instead they donated the Pride flag to SO&P to march with during the Seattle Pride parade. It was a generous donation, and one I'm sure SO&P was honored to to accept.

However, the Space Needle's well intentioned gift was not well received by the thousands of people who called upon the Space Needle to raise the flag. Why?

Pride is an annual recognition of the 1969 the Stonewall riots in New York City. New York police regularly raided establishments where gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and transexual, people would hang out. They would arrest and humiliate them. Their photographs were printed in newspapers which killed careers, and ruined families. It was ugly, but there was nothing the community could do, because the law was against them.

One night, while the community mourned for one of their only public supporters Judy Garland, the police raided a bar called the Stonewall Inn. Police arrested and humiliated patrons who were simply minding their own business. The culmination of Judy Garland's death and years of physical oppression reached a tipping point. New York's community fought back.

Historians mark the Stonewall riots as the beginning of the modern LGBT civil rights movement, and Pride celebrations around the world continue to mark the occasion every year.

During the more than three decades since the Stonewall riots, LGBT people are in the midst of a civil rights struggle that continues to this day. We celebrate as we become more equal under the law. New York is poised to let gays and lesbians marry. Washington State is not far away.

We also mourn losses. In Tennessee this year, the legislature tried to pass the "Don't Say Gay Bill" which would make it illegal for teachers to mention gay people in school. When that failed, they passed a bill that made it illegal to protect LGBT people from discrimination at a local level.

It is still legal to be fired in more than 30 states if you are LGBT. People are being discharged from the military under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." And people die every day in this country before they have the opportunity to marry the person they love.

So for us, the Pride flag is not just a brightly colored piece of fabric, it has deep history, and significant meaning. When the Space Needle chose to raise the flag last year, they made it unquestionably clear that they supported our community. It was overwhelmingly powerful for many of us. The comments on Josh's petition make that clear. People talk about how they cried when they saw it, how welcome they felt in their own city, how inspired they were to travel to Seattle.

People continue to tell these stories on the Facebook page for the Space Needle. Why? Because the decision not to fly the flag this year feels like a step-backwards. It salts the wounds that are so fresh from other defeats, like when California took away the rights of gays and lesbians to marry the person of their choice. Inadvertently, the Space Needle's decision is symbolic of all the losses we feel every day. From a child whose parents bully them to the point they choose homelessness over abuse. To the school denying a supportive club for LGBT people. To people dying before they are equal.

The Space Needle is an amazing institution that is supportive of our community. I see them using their influence for us in beautiful ways all the time. That's why this hurts so much, because as a friend, the Space Needle should understand why Josh Castle started his petition on They should be on our side and raise the flag -- even if it is just one more time.

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See, but what I feel this argument boils down to is that the Needle should violate their policy of not doing recurring flag raisings because the Pride issue "is just really, really, really special." You ask that they make an exception for Pride ("even if it's just one more time").

But EVERYONE's issue is special. Everyone's movement is meaningful and heartfelt to those who partake. I doubt any movement views their flag as a handful of fabric and colors. Should they similarly ask that the Needle continue to break its rules and support them every time they have their yearly event?

I think we're straddling the line of entitlement. This is our movement and our cause, and the Needle supported us last year with an incredibly visible gesture, and knowing full well what their policy is, we're going to ask for an exception to the rules? And for no other reason than "as a friend, they owe it to us to make exceptions."

Is that your definition of friendship? Obligation? You build a really strong case for them never doing it in the first place if this is how it would end up. It seems selfish to me.

I'm thankful for their show of support, but knowing full well what their policies are, I'll never pressure them to make an exception for my cause. That's not what friends and allies do.

The policy of using a flag only once is not completely accurate. They fly the 12th man flag whenever the Seahawks are in the playoffs, which is nearly ever year.

Also, the Space Needle enjoys the support of some public funding. In 2005 the public help pay for the renovation of the Space Needle, including the gift shop.

If the Space Needle truly does fly the 12th man flag on a recurring basis why not challenge the Space Needle on their breaking their policy and flying the 12th man flag on a recurring basis. Why write an article arguing how the gay community is entitled to have their flag raised every year, because it is important to us. That entitlement philosophy is the definition of special rights.

Also, what does the Space Needle receiving public funding have to do with anything? Are you saying that since they receive public funding they have to raise our flag? If so they also have to raise the Nazi party flag, the tea party flag, the Black Panthers flag, etc. No, I am not buying that.

Agreed. If you have a good argument to make about public funding, I'm willing to hear it. But right now, that just confuses me more than it convinces me.

Agreed. If you have a good argument to make about public funding, I'm willing to hear it. But right now, that just confuses me more than it convinces me.

So if they raised the Pride flag a second time would would these "devastated thousands" promise that they won't insist with weeping tears, violins, and gnashing of teeth that they "must do it again" when Pride rolls around next year?

Or will we just see another petition in 2012?

And the year after that?

And the year after that?

And might I also add that nowhere did the Needle say that it was not flying the flag because it no longer supports the LGBT civil rights struggle. It's actually quite offensive (and I wonder how much these people who feel so "violated" by it really hold the Needle in esteem if that's their opinion). You know this is their policy. And when they don't want to violate that policy for you, you accuse them of taking a step back and hurting the community. And why? Because you grew to ASSUME and EXPECT that you be treated differently than any other cause seeking to have its flagged raised (commercial, activist, national, global or otherwise).

It seems clear: Everybody gets one. And when you wanted them to make an exception for you and they didn't, you whined. And even when they donated the flag to the community, your response is that "it just isn't good enough."

Tell me, when you got birthday presents, did you accuse your friends and family of loving you less because this year's gift wasn't as good as last year's gift and then throw it back in their faces? Are we to be one of those spoiled brats who expects that after their big Sweet 16 birthday bash, every party afterward be as big of an event? Should we demand that every birthday after the Quinceanera be as big if not bigger? "If it isn't, it means you don't care about me."

I think the people who reacted so negatively to this are behaving like spoiled brats. Plain and simple.

Feel free to check out the comments on Josh Castle's petition for yourself to see why this is so important to people. I don't need to put words in their mouths':

Again, how important it is to people is besides the point. It's not a validating argument because ANYONE'S cause is "this important" to them, LGBT or not. All that says is that, "Yeah, I know this is your policy that you apply to others as well, but they just really care, and we really, REALLY care."

Apparently you missed my comment above, explaining how they do not apply this policy evenly. They fly the "!2th Man" flag above the Space Needle every time the Seahawks make the playoffs.

So Joe, if a company applied it's anti-discrimination policy against gay people unevenly would it be fair to say that someone who discriminated against a gay person could argue they can continue to do it because the policy is applied unevenly? Or would you say that the company should apply their policy in every case?

The right argument here is not "well, they apply this policy unevenly so we want you to apply the policy even more unevenly". The right question is why is the Space Needle is applying the policy unevenly and have the policy better defined, applied evenly, or removed. Just stating they apply it unevenly and you want an exception is not an argument.

I rather agree with this actually. It seems that asking for the Needle to do it "even if it is just one more time," is asking for them to break the rules for us. They might be applying the rules unevenly now (the 12th Man thing) but doesn't that beg for an even (or more clearly defined) enforcement instead of the "slide us in there against the rules too" argument?

Don't get me wrong. I'd love to see the flag there and I know it meant a lot to many people. But when it comes down to actually making it happen, the messaging matters.

Is there anything else that they run the flag for regularly other than a sports team?

Yes! In fact the Seattle PI ran a story this weekend highlighting several of the flags the Space Needle has flown, including one marking the launch of Windows XP, a giant gorilla (not a flag just a huge gorilla balloon), a museum of flight flag when we were trying to get a space shuttle (we didn't), Washington State Cougar flag (sports again), and more. Check them out

Their flag code is the as thick as a novel I'm told. I have not seen it, but I know some groups are invited to fly the flag, and others are told they can not. Some groups fly their flag more than once, others only get their flag flown once and never again. How decisions are made about flags is not transparent.

I have learned today, that the Space Needle has landmark status, which makes it eligible for city, state, and federal funds for maintenance. My next question, is how much?