Should US embassies fly flags of special interest groups?
- In June 2019, the Trump administration made headlines when they reportedly denied the request of some US embassies to fly pride flags for June Pride month, something the Obama administration allowed.
- In April 2021, Secretary of State Antony Blinken gave the State Department and US embassies worldwide blanket consent to fly pride flags from May 17 (International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia) to the end of June.
- Embassies in areas such as the UAE, Kabul, the Vatican, and Jamaica have faced backlash for flying pride flags alongside the American flag.
- As of February 24, 2021, a Gallup report estimates 5.6% of adults in the United States identify as LGBTQ.
- A March 2021 YouGov poll found 72% of citizens say the American flag makes them feel proud. Of that number, demographics reveal fissures: those 35 and younger are only 56% proud, those 35-to-54 are 71% proud, and 55 and older are 67% proud. Likewise, most White respondents are proud, at 79%, whereas Hispanics are proud at 67%, and Black Americans at 59%.
The purpose of a US embassy is to serve as a representation of its home country and assist American citizens who are traveling abroad. As a representation of the US, an embassy should, therefore, promote American values such as inclusivity and equality. Since gay marriage has been legal in the United States since 2015, it is natural that US embassies should fly pride flags that represent the equality written into law. Similarly, flying BLM flags acknowledges the value of black citizens and the struggle for civil rights based on the fundamental American principle that 'all men are created equal.'
The acknowledgment of these special interest groups is important for a variety of reasons. By highlighting these often marginalized voices, the US can set an example for countries where persecution of such groups is rampant and violent. Even without having 'solved' these issues at home, the act of displaying these symbols abroad is crucial towards visibility. Additionally, these displays serve as an essential guide for those who may need to take asylum at an embassy due to discrimination and mark it clearly as a safe space. As a result, these flags can be crucial to anyone who might be under threat of violence.
Overall, the use of flags to represent special interest groups at US embassies acknowledges marginalized groups as being a part of our country and our culture. It embraces the American values of diversity and equality under the law by finally representing those who have been and continue to be oppressed.
The roughly 250 US embassies and consulates are the official representation of our country around the world, and as such, they should not fly flags of special interest groups. It's guaranteed that there will be strong disagreements between the US and a host country on 'appropriate' or permissible behaviors and beliefs in many, if not most, of the countries where we have diplomatic relations. Additionally, once one cause is supported, naturally, many other causes will clamor for the flying of their own flag and become a never-ending spiral.
The entire purpose of embassies is to foster goodwill among international neighbors and represent US interests abroad. It's therefore paramount that we maintain neutrality in these locales. It can be easy to forget, especially for those not widely traveled, that other cultures don't place our same value on freedom of expression or religious, racial, or relational views and practices. Raising a Pride or BLM flag, for example, on our embassies declares that we as a nation support these causes, which are clearly divisive and far from an agreement among the US's own population. It's outside the scope of an embassy (not to mention reminiscent of imperialism) to force our appreciation for diversity onto these other cultures.
Employees of the embassy should be permitted to hold whatever views they choose. But as official US representatives and guest residents in another country, those views must be kept to oneself. Our official position should be one of neutrality, particularly at our international locations of US representation, the embassies.