Safety Pins and Rainbow Flags

One of the comments from a friend that has made me the angriest after this election was, when I pointed out that LGBT people are terrified of what’s going to happen to them, “You’ve been a victim of the left’s fear-mongering.  Trump is very supportive of the LGBTQ community, and has held up their flag at several of his rallies.”

The conversation got heated about other things and we never really hashed it out, but what I wanted to say was, “So the fuck what?”  If Trump were an ally to the LGBTQ community, he would not have said that states should be allowed to tell trans people they have to take their lives in their hands if they want to pee.  If he’d been an ally, he’d have picked someone who didn’t spend state funding on conversion therapy as his running mate.  And you can bet money that if he’d ever done anything really ally-like in his life, he wouldn’t have Franklin “The Gays are Destroying America” Graham out campaigning for him, because Graham would not be okay with that, and would pull his support quicker than you can say “World Vision.”  (Sexual assault, advocating torture, that’s cool, though.)  And he might have made even a token gesture of disagreement when the RNC put out an extraordinarily anti-LGBTQ platform.

It’s trivially easy to hold up a flag and say you support someone, but it doesn’t mean it’s the truth.  Unfortunately, the same is true of a safety pin. A lot of people are critical of wearing a safety pin to show you’re an ally.  While other folks in marginalized groups feel helped and supported by it. Which should be no surprise, since no group is a monolith, and being a “safe” person means different things, both to individuals and to groups. On the whole, I’m leaning toward the idea that wearing a pin is good, but not enough.

It’s also not okay to want cookies or pats on the back for wearing a pin, or to expect people to automatically trust you because of it.  Saying you’re safe doesn’t necessarily mean you are.  Claiming to be a safe person can even be a ruse to make someone you intend to harm feel safe, like volunteering as a campus safety escort and then raping the woman you were supposed to walk home.  Or, like holding up a Pride flag (upside down, even)* to get people to vote for you, while you sign onto a platform that strips away your rights and pick a Vice President who thinks trying to torture them straight is a good use of government money.

*Traditionally, a flag flown upside down is a symbol of great distress. It’s for things like, “This ship is going to sink! Please send help!” So, Trump holding a Pride flag with the purple stripe on top was unintentionally appropriate.

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2 thoughts on “Safety Pins and Rainbow Flags

  1. Dave Wallace says:

    I’ve been wearing a safety pin for a couple of weeks now. I agree that it is merely a start, rather than an achievement in itself. Here’s why I’m wearing it, particularly when I ride public transit:

    First, I want to signal to potential victims of harassment that there is likely to be at least one potential ally among the strangers in the crowd. It’s not a guarantee – as others have noted, there is nothing explicitly stopping potential harassers from also adopting the symbol for their own purposes. But I want vulnerable people to know that there are potential allies among the white faces in the crowd, and hopefully breathe a little easier about being out in public these days.

    Second, I want potential harassers to know that my white skin and male body does not mean they should assume that I will be at least passively on their side. If harassers are aware that some in the crowd are likely to oppose them, they may be deterred from acting in a hostile manner in the first place. If so, that’s good – it keeps a hostile environment from developing.

    Third, it is a reminder to myself that I have promised to intervene if I see harassment going on. So I am thinking about possible harassment scenarios and how I might respond every time I am out in public these days, which means I am more likely to be prepared to act if it does occur.

    Fourth, by wearing a visible symbol of support, I may get people asking me about the pin and what it means, which gives me an opportunity to talk about the harassment that vulnerable people have encountered already and what we might be able to do about it. Raising the visibility of harassment incidents makes more people aware of the ugliness going on and may create more allies among relatively privileged populations.

    But fifth, and perhaps most important, by wearing a clearly visible safety pin when I am out in public, I take away my option of remaining just an anonymous member of the crowd if visible harassment starts to happen in my presence. I know that other members of the crowd will see my pin and will judge by my action or inaction what it really means. I won’t have the option of sitting quietly during the incident, only to think later of what I should have done. I will know that part of the response of the crowd will likely be up to me and how I signal that we should act. So I expect that wearing the pin will impel me to action in order to live up to the expectations I have raised by putting it on.

    I may not do the exact right thing that hindsight would argue for. But I hope I will do something rather than nothing, and will try to watch the victim for clues as to what actions might be welcome or unwelcome.

    I don’t expect cookies just for wearing the pin. I know, by wearing the pin, that I am inviting both the judgement and criticism of my actions from others if I do encounter someone being harassed. I hope and trust that knowledge will impel me to do the right thing if that moment comes.

    • KellyK says:

      Thanks, Dave. I think all your reasons are good ones. I can’t speak for anybody but myself, but when I went to a concert with a friend, my first time out in a big crowd after the election, she pointed out that the woman in front of us was wearing a safety pin. It certainly made me feel safer.

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