“Hey, Mr. D’Elia, how come you have a pride flag in your room?” It's a small 4x6 inch flag stuck in a mug on a shelf by my desk. I was caught off guard helping a student revise their paper, but kids have a way of asking random questions I’m not ready for. They will honestly raise their hand in the middle of a lesson and ask me how many dogs I have. He asked an important question, though.
State legislatures are attempting to restrict the display of these flags, and a few school districts have succeeded. Why are these flags so controversial? My student’s question is valid. Why fly a rainbow flag in a public space? Why display it in a classroom? Shouldn’t I only be teaching reading and writing in my English Language Arts class? And if I’m a Christian, shouldn’t I be flying a Jesus flag or something?
I have other things displayed in my classroom: the American and Texas flags; my seminary degree; pictures of my wife and daughters; a poster welcoming ALL races and ethnicities. All of these communicate a message. I display the pride flag for the same reason I talk about my father coming from another country, unable to speak English and feeling out of place. It's the same reason I tell them about times I’ve made mistakes or outright failed and continued on.
For students – or any human – to learn, they must first feel safe and valued. Every student needs to feel at ease and free to be who they are. They shouldn’t feel the need to hide a part of themselves, whether that self is Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, or nothing. Whether that person is Asian, Black, European, Indigenous, Latino, or Pacific Islander. Whether that person is born in the United States or somewhere else in the world. Whether that person’s first language is English or something else.
And whether that person is gay or straight.
Cringe alert: Years ago, I said to a black colleague of mine, “I don’t see color.” It was a lie, though it was a lie of which I was unaware, or at least I didn’t want to be aware. Of course I saw color. I just didn’t want to see it. We live in a broken world, where people of color have been misused and abused for centuries. We live in a Genesis 3 world, where people are hurt and hurt each other. And certain groups of people hurt certain groups of people. It’s important that white people, like me, acknowledge this because some people, like me, want to pretend it never happened or happens.
Once having to explain this truth to a white friend of mine, I told him to imagine his white son being pulled over by the police. Not a fun thought, but he had a reasonable expectation that his son would be treated fairly. I asked him to think about a father who has a son of color, pulled over by the police. His son’s heart beating faster, but not just because he might get a ticket. It is reasonable for his son to be fearful, because he doesn’t know how his race will affect the equation.
The same is true for straight people. We are sheltered from their experience. Because people of the LGBTQ+ community have been abused for so long, it’s important they know they are safe.
Imagine being twelve years old and having two moms or two dads. Imagine walking into a classroom where you’re not sure if your teacher or classmates will look upon your parents' marriage as “sin,” an abomination, or just gross.
Imagine having an older sibling who is gay or trans. Imagine questioning your own sexual or gender identity.
Having a safe place in school where you know you and members of your family will not be hated is what love looks like. This is the lowest bar of loving your neighbor, which is foundational to the Christian faith and Jesus’s teaching. It’s literally just not hating someone.
And by the way, being “neutral“ is not good enough. When people are actively trying to erase you, being neutral is not nearly good enough.
Is it really that bad?
This is what makes many white straight males so upset. My group tends to believe we live in a colorblind, equitable, fair world, because that is what we, straight white males, have always experienced. We have been sheltered from living in an unsafe, abusive environment where our very existence is challenged as “less than,” a psychosis, or even sinful.
I confess, rather cringingly, how I once believed that we lived in an ideal world. The truth is, I lived in an ideal world. But so many of my fellow humans did not and still do not.
But you know what? I wish we lived in a world where color didn’t make us question others’ humanity.
I wish we lived in a world where women feel respected, valued, and, at least safe from a male dominated power structure.
I wish we lived in a world where we didn’t have to stand up and fight for the rights of the marginalized and abused.
I wish we lived in a world where gay members of my family didn’t have to be careful and conscious where and when they show affection.
I wish we lived in a world where I didn’t have to put a pride flag up in my classroom.
But we do.
And until then, we can speak up for the weak and misused, each in our own way – even if it’s just flying a small 4x6 inch flag.
“Hey, Mr. D’Elia, how come you have a pride flag in your room?” My student waited for an answer.
I simply said, “Because there are people in that community who I love.”