by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Last year, the Space Needle made history by hoisting the Pride flag atop its spire for the first time ever.
The community was jubilant. It was an affirmation; a symbol that Seattle and the LGBT community that inhabits it (the second largest in the nation) are in sync. Photos were taken of smiling executive directors and prominent LGBT politicians and advocates as they raised the flag for Pride.
In short, it was one of the happiest historic moments this community has ever experienced.
That was then. On June 3, Seattle Out & Proud (SO&P), the organization responsible for the annual Seattle Pride Parade, announced to the community (quite by accident) that the Space Needle would not be flying the Pride flag this year, and all hell broke loose.
May 26 started out normally enough for the board members of SO&P. Organization President Adam Rosencrantz, Operations VP Jarod Owen, Parade Director Mike Campbell, Director of Outreach Elayne Wylie-Weichers, and Parade Staging Manager Marc Ackerman had a clear objective: Put together a plan of how SO&P could work with the Space Needle to celebrate 2011 Seattle Pride.
At approximately 3:30 p.m., Rosencrantz and company met with Mary Bacarella, vice president of brand management for the Space Needle.
Initially, said Rosencrantz, SO&P had asked the Space Needle Corporation to be a grand marshal in this year's Pride Parade as a thank-you for flying the flag in 2010.
'From that invitation, a meeting request was made to talk about alternatives to being a grand marshal,' Rosencrantz told Seattle Gay News. 'At this time, it was suggested that the flag would not fly this year and there were a few ideas on the table about what to do with the flag from 2010.'
SO&P officials say they asked the Space Needle representative directly if the flag was going to fly or not. 'The answer we got was a recently created company flag policy, which talked specifically about flying flags more than once and the common idea of 'diluting the brand,' said Rosencrantz.
'They suggested that we take the flag from 2010 and cut it into small swatches and auction it off or sell it for charity. It was later suggested by Jarod Owen that, instead of cutting it up, let's march it in the parade, and a plan to tour the flag was born.'
At that time, said Rosencrantz, Bacarella 'committed the Space Needle to sponsoring a fundraiser on-site & in the fall to benefit the community and create the program that would take the flag on tour and use it as an education and inspirational message.'
At no time did SO&P make the assumption that a private company (contrary to what many believe, the Space Needle is not owned by the city) would automatically fly the flag every year.
However, a majority of the LGBT community sure did, as SO&P would soon find out.
'We felt that their gesture in 2010 was a great symbol for the community and we did not want SO&P to seem ungrateful for them having flown the flag in 2010. Instead of letting it sit in a closet somewhere, taking them up on their offer to tour the flag nationally - and hopefully internationally - and allowing it to hang or be flown in other cities is something that has great potential,' said Rosencrantz. 'At no time did SO&P feel that the Space Needle was snubbing the community, in fact, the Space Needle stepped into a void last year that hasn't been since filled by the owners of any tall buildings in Seattle.'
'SO&P would gladly work to see the Pride flag fly again,' he said. 'This year, next year, and every year thereafter. We are concerned that having such a negative angle on the story doesn't take into account the positive actions of either organization.'
The Space Needle is a trademarked, protected image. 'Ask any local photographers and filmmakers who have shot footage of the Needle, and they'll explain what the Space Needle's policies are,' said Rosencrantz. 'SO&P was given a single opportunity to work with the Space Needle, with permission to take the flag off-site and use the inspiring story from 2010 to give hope to other communities. Of all the choices Space Needle had available to them regarding the flag, what made us confident that they 'remain committed' was the idea that they supported the concept of a national tour that is associated with their brand name.'
Rosencrantz says the Space Needle has also committed to footing the bill for a fundraiser to help support the tour of the flag.
SO&P has already fielded a request from a Pride organization representative on Maui, Hawaii, who expressed interest in raising the flag or marching with it in their 2012 Pride event (the Maui Pride event for 2011 has already passed).
At the May 26 meeting, a Space Needle official indicated to SO&P, 'This is your flag.' Still, until papers are drawn up indicating a transfer of ownership to the community, the flag remains the property of the Space Needle - a Seattle landmark which may have damaged its reputation in the community because of the snub.
'We don't feel that SO&P owns the flag. We have simply been granted guardianship from the Space Needle for the community, and we take that very seriously,' concluded Rosencrantz.
SPACE NEEDLE: PLEASE RAISE THE PRIDE FLAG FOR SEATTLE PRIDE WEEKEND
Word of the Space Needle's refusal to fly the flag caught on like wildfire, which triggered a wave of reaction from the LGBT community. Immediately, Seattle activist Josh Castle created a petition on Change.org, and Joe Mirabella, Seattle blogger and Change.org organizing manager, got to work asking the Space Needle to fly the flag once again.
In the petition's overview (available at www.change.org/petitions/space-needle-please-raise-the-pride-flag-for-seattle-pride-weekend), Castle's message is clear: The choice to fly the flag in 2010 showed the world that Seattle is a welcoming city for all. Refusal to fly the flag in 2011 shows the opposite.
In less than 24 hours after its creation, over 1,500 people signed the petition. At press time, it was nearing 10,000 signatures, showing that the community is invested in seeing this happen.
'The Space Needle is an amazing place and a symbol of all that's right with Seattle,' Castle told SGN. 'It's in the middle of a gorgeous city that values diversity. They [the Space Needle's owners] should reflect Seattle, and value it, too.'
All people are going to remember, he said, is how the Space Needle didn't raise the Pride flag on the weekend dedicated to LGBT Pride.
'So simple - they just need to pull out last year's flag and raise it for Pride weekend,' he continued. 'And if they don't have the money for a rainbow flag, we'll hand them the biggest damn rainbow flag the city has ever seen. We'll even help them hoist it.'
Ignoring the petition and citing their association with SO&P by giving them the flag, the Space Needle's Bacarella said again they would not be flying the flag. Bacarella said the Space Needle doesn't make a habit of flying flags on top of the Space Needle and, in fact, they try not to fly any flags on a recurring basis.
The list of flags they do fly is lengthy, which has led many in the community to cry foul on that argument. In fact, in an interview with SGN last June, when the Space Needle raised the Pride flag for 2010, Space Needle CEO Ron Sevart said, 'It's a big deal for some of our team members. Such a big deal that when we told some of them, it was very emotional. We're as diverse inside the Space Needle as what is outside the Space Needle.'
Sevart continued, 'The Pride event takes place on the Seattle Center campus. I think that being able to look up at the Space Needle and see that flag up there - I think it's going to be a very proud moment for a lot of people.'
Well, it was a proud moment for a lot of people - but 'was' and 'is' are two different things. What happened?
All press inquiries from SGN to the Space Needle went unanswered.
A COMMUNITY RESPONDS
SO&P is not the only organization with its finger on the Pride pulse. Egan Orion, director of PrideFest, the Pacific Northwest's largest LGBT Pride festival (which takes place at Seattle Center, the very grounds the Space Needle stands on) weighed in on the debacle.
Orion says that although he fully understands the Space Needle is a private corporation and has the right to do what it wants, 'it is a beacon for residents and visitors alike, and what flag the Space Needle flies does matter to Seattleites.'
'It seems to be more of a public relations mess for the Space Needle than anything else,' he said of the trouble. 'They flew the flag for the first time in 2010, much to the delight of the local LGBT community. Once that gesture was made, the community, it seems, feels betrayed that it has been unmade. It is unfortunate, as [flying the flag] sends a signal of support for Pride weekend and unifies the city in affirming the LGBT community.'
'My sense is that after their  gesture, more people from our community went to eat at the Space Needle [restaurant] or to take their out-of-town guests to enjoy the view from the top,' he continued. 'I have a feeling the support for the Space Needle will drop this year now that they have decided not to fly the rainbow flag, at least amongst the LGBT community and their allies.'
Although the flag is being released to SO&P to be used in the 2011 Seattle Pride Parade, as the festival director, Orion says he's 'a little ambivalent about using the Space Needle's flag at PrideFest.'
'In a way, I feel like it's taking the scraps from the Space Needle and trying to make a nice little Pride picnic out of it,' he told SGN. 'We're unveiling a giant Pride flag of our own this year to match the size of the Space Needle flag - look for it as the last float in the parade, and it will also have its own grand entrance at the festival at the main stage. No Space Needle scraps, but something funded by our own community and made specifically for us, not as some empty public relations gesture.'
The group that was asked to march with the Space Needle Pride flag, and accepted, is the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, The Abbey of St. Joan.
Public relations nightmare or not, The Abbey says they are 'delighted and honored' to march with the flag.
'As we carry this beacon of hope through downtown Seattle, we will perpetuate our mission to support and represent our community in all its magnificent glory. The past and future of a particular flag we carry is of less import to us than ensuring that this powerful symbol is present on the parade route,' said The Abbey in a statement to the press.
'If the Sisters want to march with the Space Needle flag in the parade, I say do it,' said Orion. 'Big, beautiful rainbow flags make a statement and I'm sure everybody will appreciate that particular flag being put to good use this year.'
ERW, GSBA, PRIDE FOUNDATION WEIGH IN
Equal Rights Washington, the Greater Seattle Business Association (GSBA), and Pride Foundation issued a joint statement to SGN on the subject.
'Last year, we applauded with excitement when the flag was proudly raised atop the Space Needle. This profound gesture of support by the leadership at the Space Needle made a bold statement that the LGBTQ community was being recognized for our community's civic, cultural, and economic contributions,' read the statement, which was signed by Josh Friedes, ERW executive director; Louise Chernin, GSBA executive director; and Marschel Paul of the Pride Foundation.
'It is our understanding that last year's flag-raising was a one-time event pursuant to the Space Needle's flag-raising policy. The Space Needle is a GSBA member and an important partner that supports the GSBA mission and programs. We applaud the Space Needle for its support of equality and raising the rainbow flag during last year's Pride month to especially commemorate our state's Referendum 71 victory. We also acknowledge the Space Needle's policies on flag-raising and its autonomy to choose how it recognizes the diverse communities of Seattle and embraces equality for all (to which it is has consistently shown support for in other ways),' the statement continued.
'However, as the struggle for LGBTQ visibility and equality continues with issues such as (but not limited to) same-sex marriage recognition, support for LGBTQ youth and seniors, HIV/AIDS education, rural LGBTQ needs, and Transgender health issues, our community needs allies like the Space Needle to demonstrate its support in a vibrant and ongoing way. The Space Needle certainly recognizes the powerful symbolism and positive impact that raising the flag atop its spire has on the City of Seattle as a beacon of LGBTQ community pride and progressive values,' said the directors.
'The rainbow flag is an iconic symbol for the LGBTQ community in the same spirit as the Space Needle is an iconic symbol of Seattle. It is our hope that it is a partnership that will continue and we have asked the leadership at the Space Needle to thoughtfully reconsider their decision and policy.'
Pride month is about celebration and activism. Encouraging everyone to celebrate Pride in a meaningful way is what's most important, they said. 'We'd love to see rainbow flags flying all over the city during this season. For those wishing to ask the Space Needle to reconsider, Change.org has organized a petition drive requesting the Space Needle raise the rainbow flag again this year for Pride month.'
'We'd especially love to see folks engage in the continued work on achieving equality not only during Pride month, but all year long,' concluded the statement. 'Get active, support our many nonprofits working on equality issues, live out and proud in your communities.'
A FLAG ON EVERY CORNER
When issues like these arise, the LGBT community is known for its ingenuity and wit. Aside from Josh Castle's Change.org petition, a number of other ideas on how to deal with the Space Needle problem have arisen.
Seattle City Councilperson Jean Godden has jumped into the fray. On June 9, Godden asked the Space Needle to show its Pride on her website (www.jeangodden.com).
'The public and proud support represented by the flag flying high over the Space Needle is something that should not be lost,' Godden posted on her website.
She asked for her supporters and the supporters of LGBT Pride to sign a petition she created and promised to 'personally carry your message of support to Space Needle executives.'
'We need to show Seattle's pride by raising the flag!' she concluded.
It is the position of SGN that, yes, the Pride flag should wave proudly above the Space Needle - not just once or twice, but year after year during Pride. Our staff and friends have all signed petitions, made phone calls, and showed support for the effort.
But what SGN staff and leadership would like members of the community to recognize is that we, as a collective LGBT movement, can make the difference in our own neighborhoods, at our favorite bar or club, and in our workplaces.
Let's put a flag on every corner!
From now until June 26, the day of the Pride parade, SGN, along with the support and help from the community, plans to ask dozens of city landmarks, government buildings, and sports arenas to hoist a Pride flag.
Here is what you can do:
o Call Seattle landmarks and ask them to show their Pride.
o Hang a Pride flag from your house or paste one in the window of your apartment building.
o Carry a Pride flag in the parade or simply bring one with you to PrideFest.
We are a strong community, a large community, and the Pride flag is our banner. Wave it proudly!
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