PHOTOS: SAN DIEGO—In one of the largest demonstrations in the city's history, 50,000 mostly Latino marchers clogged downtown April 9 demanding immigration reform and denouncing legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives that would make it a felony to be in the U.S. illegally. Photo by Rex Wockner
I put the flag in my bag the night before. The plan was to get to the march and, using the opportunity that I had in being one of the speakers, show that in all movements the queer community is present, active and important.
That morning, hundreds of thousands of immigrants took to the streets to demand immigration reform and the repeal of House Bill 4437, which would criminalize all undocumented immigrants as well as all who help them. In Chicago, most of them carried Mexican and U.S. flags; there were a couple Polish, Irish and Latin-American flags also.
And these flags have become important symbols. In a meeting held by the group of organizations that formed after the protest to continue the work, there was a bit of strife when someone suggested that the community should be encouraged to carry U.S. flags only. It was argued that in this way the community could show that 'we are Americans too.' The other side argued that immigrants should have rights, regardless of whether we identify as 'American.'
The debate is national. In April, schools in Colorado and Utah temporarily prohibited the carrying of flags or clothing with flags of any nationality to school. As students were increasingly manifesting their feelings on immigration, they had affected 'the harmony of the school,' as one school official described.
The Colorado Senate passed a bill later that month—which, at the time I'm writing this column, remains a bill—that would only allow the display of U.S. flags inside schools in 'a respectful manner.' In addition, Senator Tom Wiens, one of the supporters of this bill, said that the presence of Mexican flags 'devalues the greatness of this country and what it means to be a citizen of this country.'
Even the Associated Press ( AP ) ran a story entitled 'Latin American flags, pride or disloyalty?'
And that is how I felt on that morning when I was trying to decide whether to wear my rainbow flag. To me it was about pride, inclusion and visibility. But as I stood there in the middle of Jackson Street, looking west at the mass of people approaching, I wondered if my flag would not be seen as a sign of disloyalty, of separatism.
When I reached Federal Plaza, there were already hundreds there, waiting. I went to the stage area and stood up on one of those cement blocks on the north side of the plaza.
As I was looking out, contemplating the historical significance of the moment, there was a wave of commotion. And suddenly, standing right next to me, was the infamous Spanish-language radio show host 'El Pistolero.'
El Pistolero is credited with being responsible for at least some of the massive numbers of people who showed up that day. He is also well known to be a sexist, homophobic person who did not become involved in politics until recently. Last year the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation had a campaign directed at him for the language and jokes he used on the air. After the march, women's groups made declarations against him. His response? It's entertainment and the people respond.
So when he was standing next to me, smiling and waving at people, I reached into my bookbag and took out my rainbow flag. I don't know how many people saw it, or if they even knew what it meant. But I felt so defiant at that moment.
I wore that flag throughout the event. It was worth it when some told me that they saw it on TV or from the crowd, and felt happy even though they didn't know it was me. It was worth it when a family friend and organizer walked up to me and put his arm around me and said 'We made it' as we stood there together facing the crowd.
'The Mexican flag is like a symbol of dignity, identity and pride for the people who carry it,' said labor activist Dolores Huerta, as reported in that AP story—a quote that I like to apply to my rainbow flag.