The Trump administration now requires State Department approval for requests by U.S. embassies to fly rainbow flags for Pride Month (or any other occasion) and this year has apparently rejected all such requests, but several U.S. embassies are defying that rejection and flying rainbow flags anyway. “This is a category one insurrection,” said one diplomat of the defiance, according to The Hill, with that diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of being fired.
The Trump administration has continued to backtrack in its stance toward LGBTQ rights and support, and this is one example. Until now, approvals to fly the rainbow flag have been granted routinely every year for about the last decade, and the Obama administration even changed the guidelines in 2016 to go from requiring State Department approval to needing only the approval of an embassy’s ambassador or chief of mission, so long as the rainbow flag would be flown below the U.S. flag, just like the flagpole guidelines for any other non-U.S. flag. Last year the Trump administration issued a cable advising that State Department permission was again required, but in 2018 granted all requests; this year, however, the State Department has not approved any of the requests. This has not stopped multiple embassies from flying the rainbow flag, however. According to The Hill:
Several U.S. embassies and diplomatic missions around the world are hoisting rainbow flags in honor of Pride Month, despite a slate of rejections from the Trump administration of requests to fly the flag.The Washington Post reported Saturday that diplomatic missions in Seoul, South Korea, and Chennai, India, sent out a press release and a video advertising the flag hanging outside their respective buildings, while the U.S. embassy in New Delhi updated its Twitter cover photo showing a rainbow projected on it. The embassy in Santiago, Chile, shows a video on its website of a diplomat flying a rainbow flag last month for the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, and the website for the Vienna embassy features a photo of the same flag. … NBC noted that the State Department denied the request of the U.S. Embassy in Berlin to fly the flag. The (Berlin) embassy is led by U.S. Ambassador Richard Grenell, the most senior openly gay person in Trump’s administration.
Despite the rejection the U.S. Embassy in Berlin received from the State Department, Ambassador Richard Grenell indicated Friday, according to The Hill, that he is nonetheless using President Trump’s acknowledgement of Pride Month “to once again march in the Berlin Pride parade, hang a huge banner on the side of the Embassy recognizing our pride, host multiple events at the Embassy and the residence, and fly the gay pride flag”, i.e. to defy that rejection by the State Department.
While the Trump administration’s backtracking on LGBTQ rights, particularly Trump’s attempts to ban transgender people from serving in the military, has motivated this defiance, there are some diplomatic officials who are having the opposite reaction, staying quiet on the subject, with one such official telling The Washington Post, “We fly below the radar. We survive because they don’t realize we’re here.” Others are coming forward publicly to criticize this backtracking, including Robyn McCutcheon, a transgender woman who has worked in multiple diplomatic posts, who wrote in a blog, according to The Hill, “Day by day, a death by a thousand cuts, our rights as lgbt+ Americans are being eroded with the removal of a guidance here, the rewriting of a policy there, or just the quiet disappearance of a web site. It should come as no surprise that this erosion would happen also at the U.S. Department of State.”
U.S. embassies defying the Trump administration by flying the rainbow flag even after the State Department has refused their request to do so is one way to make this backtracking more visible – if all of them had simply complied, perhaps the public would not be aware that the Trump administration was now not only requiring State Department permission to fly the flag at embassies, but also now refusing to grant that permission.