An LGBT student group at Middle Tennessee State University is standing by its history exhibit inside a campus library, where the group hung a flag modeled after the American flag but with rainbow stripes.
"It's really caught us by surprise that this flag has caused so much controversy, because in essence it's not an American flag, it's symbolic of that," Joshua Rigsby, president of MT Lambda, told Nashville TV station WTVF.
The flag is being displayed as part of an exhibit celebrating MT Lambda's 25 years on the MTSU campus and commemorating October as LGBT History Month.
School officials say the dean's office received several complaints about the flag three days after the display went up. Even though the group received permission for the exhibit and has carried the flag previously, the school sought legal counsel and consulted with the state's attorney general to confirm that the flag didn't break any laws.
"And their advice to us, since they are a registered student organization, and that this is constitutionally protected free speech, that their right of expression is protected," university spokesman Andrew Oppmann told WTVF.
Community members who wrote to WTVF expressed outrage, saying the rainbow tones amounted to a desecration of the American flag.
"This is just un-American and against the law," wrote one WTVF viewer in an email to the Nashville TV station. "They removed the red white and blue and replaced with rainbow."
But Rigsby, the president of the MTSU's LGBT student organization, notes that the group has marched with this flag in the annual homecoming parade for several years.
"Desecrating an American flag would entail ripping, or shredding, or burning an actual 13-red-and-white-stripe American flag," said Rigsby. "And that's not what this is."
Watch WTVF's report below.