District’s decision to fly the flags year-round was met with negative responses, and then, substantial support
The rainbow flag, or pride flag, has been an iconic symbol of the LGBTQ rights movement since the 1990s. And in recent years, as the LGBTQ community continues to fight for rights across the county, local controversy has risen around the flying of the pride flag as a symbol of solidarity by Eagle County governments and organizations.
“The flags have a simple message that says more than just ‘LGBTQIA+ folks are accepted.’ The flags send the message: ‘You are welcome to be you, here,’” said Madison Partridge, the executive director of Mountain Pride, previously Eagle County Pride.
“I would love for local residents to understand the significance that a welcome space plays in the life of our LGBTQIA+ community. These flags can be lifesaving visibility and support to the most vulnerable members of our community: LGBTQIA+ youth, who may or may not have accepting homes. Pride flags open up places in people’s lives where they feel affirmed, respected, welcomed and accepted for who they are,” Partridge added.
Most recently, Mountain Recreation has experienced an influx of calls of support and disagreement over the flag.
The district initially flew the pride flags at its three facilities in June 2021, during Pride Month. However, last month, the district’s board made the decision to put the flags up permanently.
“For decades, the District has served the community by providing recreational opportunities that bring our community together. Without a question we will do everything in our power to ensure every person has an opportunity for a healthy and active lifestyle,” wrote Liz Jones, Mountain Rec board president, in an emailed statement to the Vail Daily. “By displaying the flag, we are stating our promise to provide an environment that is safe, welcome and inclusive of everyone.”
Eddie Campos, Mountain Recreation’s marketing and communications manager, said that the decision to fly the flags also fits within the district’s goal of furthering diversity, equity and inclusion across the community it serves. This is a goal that it has been working on since January 2021.
“Part of this work is to foster a safe and welcoming space in our facilities and in our programs,” Campos said. “Displaying the pride flags at our facilities was an important first step in showing our community that we see, hear, and value everyone.”
The district’s decision to fly the pride flags year-round was initially met with a round of negative responses from various district residents. However, quickly local community organizations became aware of the disagreement and ensured that voices of support for the flags were heard too.
According to Partridge, Mountain Pride first heard about the complaints coming in from Mountain Recreation staff. The staff “asked if we could raise up the powerful voices of our LGBTQ+ and allies to show how vital having these flags up means,” Partridge said.
In early March, Mountain Pride posted a call to action on their respective Facebook groups. The call referenced that Mountain Recreation was “facing backlash” over pride flags in its facilities.
The post asked members of the “LGBTQIA+ community and allies” to email the Mountain Recreation board, “explaining how vital it is for our pride flags to be visible in our community and the impact that removing them from a community center would have.”
“We wanted to show the Mountain Rec board that their decision to put up the flag was powerful and impactful,” Partridge said. “We wanted our gratefulness and support of the flag to be louder than the negative comments and not let them impact a possible decision to keep up or take down.”
Other local community groups joined the Mountain Pride organization in asking its members to send letters of support to the Mountain Recreation board. This included Eagle County Democrats, which sent out an email on Thursday, March 10, echoing the call to action shared on Facebook by the local pride organizations.
“After learning from various community members that the board and staff of Mountain Rec were receiving hateful and threatening emails attacking their act of inclusion and acceptance by raising the pride flag, our executive committee felt it was important to show our support, and to invite our mailing list to send notes of support as well,” wrote Jennifer Filipowski, president of the Eagle County Democrats executive committee, in an email to the Vail Daily.
Filipowski added that the intention with the email was to “offer a more realistic sense of how supportive and inclusive this community is, despite the actions of a vocal minority.”
“Especially in this divisive political environment, it is important to let those who are marginalized and attacked for being who they are know there are safe places for them in our community,” Filipowski said. “Hate doesn’t add value to community.”
Right now — particularly as a number of “Don’t Say Gay” bills are being introduced across the country and as higher rates of suicide and suicidal thoughts are reported for LGBTQ youth — signs of support like the pride flag can be powerful for the LGBTQ community.
“There is a lot of hate in the world right now, specifically targeting the LGBTQIA+ and trans community,” Partridge said. “ By seeing the pride flag in a facility, youth are affirmed in their diverse and unique identities. This affirmation can truly save lives. Small actions of love and acceptance, such as hanging pride flags, help quiet the noise of the current political climate and remind us that we should all feel accepted and respected for who we are.”
Campos said that while district leadership has recently received feedback disagreeing with the flag being flown, it has heard “substantially more” comments in support of the flags.
“We have heard significant support for our display of the pride flag at our facilities,” Campos said. “Support has come in from community members and leaders of other organizations, thanking the district for carrying out its mission to provide recreational opportunities to everyone in our community.”
While Campos said that Mountain Recreation wants to hear all feedback from its community members, including those in opposition to the flags being flown, the district has no intention of taking down the flags.
“The pride flags will stay up,” he said. “Our community can always depend on Mountain Rec being a safe space and that is what we intend to show for everyone in our community.”