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It's Time to Wave that Rainbow Flag Higher

It's Time to Wave that Rainbow Flag Higher

Time to Wave that Rainbow Flag Higher

Orlando may be inundated with pro-LGBT imagery, but with our culture's collective short memory, we need those banners up as long as possible.

You can't escape the rainbow.

That's the one quote ABC used from me last Sunday from a five-minute interview I did with reporter Eva Pilgrim about life here in Orlando in the days following the Pulse nightclub massacre.

The multicolored flag is seemingly everywhere these days in Central Florida, my home for more than 20 years. And it's not even Pride here. We pushed that back to fall several years ago so it wouldn't compete with the behemoth that is Gay Days. After Gay Days, we're spent -- both financially and emotionally. We're gayed out. By the second weekend of June, we're breathing a collective sigh of relief from having just hosted thousands of tourists from around the world. We put away the decorations, at least until October.

I imagine many of the patrons at Pulse Saturday, June 11, and into the next morning, were there to celebrate "surviving" another first weekend of June, whether working it or attending it, and most likely, both.

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For me, it's been somewhat disorienting to see rainbows everywhere this past week. Our performing arts center, its plaza now home to a memorial, the hotel across the street, and the corner spire of our local arena are each lit in red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. Our major league soccer team encouraged fans to wear section-specific colors to last week's home game and built a rainbow in the stadium. A mixed-use development a block away from Pulse painted a rainbow around its roundabout. Highway billboards use multicolored lettering. Signs on banks, chain pharmacies, and fast-food restaurants, local outlets of national department stores: They've all gone rainbow or, at the very least, proclaim "Orlando Strong" or "Orlando United."

This week you didn't have to go outdoors to see a rainbow. Each scroll through Facebook presents a new multihued picture or video from somewhere around the world saying "We Are Orlando." Even NBC refashioned its on-screen ghost logo.

Rainbows always symbolized happiness, at least until last week. While they've become a way to show solidarity with my hometown, now they'll also be a reminder of the tragedy that happened to my neighbors.

The "problem" is I'm so grateful for each new display of compassion that I'm literally moved to tears. I can't escape the rainbow, and I can't escape crying either.

All of the support is truly appreciated, even when it's misguided. My best gal pal's father leads the Slidell, La., Ministers' Association; last week it issued a press release condemning "the murder and assault on the innocent people" at Pulse. Even though the ministers used phrases like "We affirm that violence ... based on religion, race, ethnicity, gender or any other contrived prejudice is in direct opposition to the teachings of the Bible and Jesus Christ" and "We will not condone or allow hatred against you because of your chosen lifestyle," I know their hearts are in the right place. However, the Pulse victims were targeted first and foremost because they were gay or perceived to be. To lump sexual orientation in as "any other contrived prejudice" while describing it as a "chosen lifestyle" only throws fuel on the fire that created the culture of homophobia in America. We've got to stop perpetuating hate.

Perhaps the Slidell pastors aren't aware that similar language -- and worse -- has been used against us many times in the past here. We heard it in the early years of Gay Days and in our fight for marriage equality and anti-discrimination laws. We even heard it in June 1998, when Orlando's city government allowed us to hang rainbow flags from downtown light poles.

So please forgive me if my view of the current rainbow explosion sounds somewhat circumspect. Those rainbow lights will eventually dim; the billboards and store signs will soon enough advertise a BOGO special or meal deal. When they do, we have to ask ourselves, What are we staying strong and staying united for? If "we" are Orlando, what are "we" going to do about this?

We may have to accept that it's the end of the innocence.

While proudly waving the rainbow flag we've achieved many victories in our battle for equality. But in many states, Florida among them, you can still be fired just for being gay; that, of course, pales in comparison with being fired upon. And with bullets flying from legally purchased assault weapons, this is indeed a war.

But by no means should we fight violence with violence. That's not our way. And our opponents know it. North Carolina's Republican governor recently said the Human Rights Campaign is more powerful than the National Rifle Association.

Now more than ever, it's time to embrace the rainbow, not escape it. Not when a real one appeared in the sky over this weekend's vigil downtown, a gathering that drew an estimated 50,000 people, more than twice what was initially expected. Probably not the divine intervention Pat Robertson warned about, but there it was.

So to those who choose to stand in our way, whether it's over workplace equality, gun reform, or legislation on where we go to the bathroom, know this -- you won't escape the rainbow either.

KIRK HARTLAGE is an Orlando-based freelance journalist. You can follow him on Facebook at

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Kirk Hartlage