Civilities: Chatting about why you can fly the rainbow flag but not the Confederate flag (Aug. 25)

Aug 25, 2015

Every other Tuesday, Steven Petrow (the author of “Steven Petrow’s Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners”) addresses questions about LGBT and straight etiquette in his column, Civilities. In between, join Steven for his chat — about everything that’s on your mind.

Here's more about Steven's "Civilities" column and what makes him the person to dole out advice.

You can also reach Steven on Facebook at and on Twitter @stevenpetrow.

Last week's column, "Why can you fly the rainbow flag but I can't fly the Confederate flag?" drew a lot of intense discussion, such as this post:


"The rainbow flag has never been a symbol of terror and slavery. I am very heterosexual, and I do not go around displaying the rainbow flag, but there is a big difference between the rainbow flag and the confederate flag. You can deny it all you want, but no amount of denial will change the fact that the confederate flag has always been a banner of racism, slavery, and treason against the United States. There is no proper place to fly the confederate flag."

And this email:


"Preposterous nonsense. I'm a fair minded American (Jewish married to a holocaust survivor) and I don't dislike the guy. Just what is a fair minded American anyway by your definition? The article implies they must agree with you. And I don't presume, as you, to speak for any group.  Also, telling us self-serving fodder that someone heard or read without citation is apocryphal and simply pejorative. Almost but not quite sophistry. Alas all this PC energy distracts from the real issue, like War."


Let's talk about it further.

I thought I was about as liberal as you could get, but after my wife abandoned me and our four young children for another woman I'm starting to reconsider. I thought we had a solid marriage and she seemed to enjoy our sex life quite a bit. In fact she often initiated it. Now it's like Ricki and the Flash, except she left for another woman instead of to become a rock star. Before she left she cleared out our joint accounts and of course we've now lost her income. She left a note saying she was not cut out to be a mother and don't try to come after her (which of course I will have to do in order to initiate divorce proceedings). It's been 7 months now without a peep. Filing taxes was a nightmare. Our children, the oldest of whom is 7, are completely bewildered. I'm sad, frustrated, furious -- you name it. I realize jerks come in all shapes, sizes, religions, and sexual orientation, but I don't know if I'll ever be able to get over this. I plan to reach out to a PFLAG support group but am just not ready yet.

Well, my friend, this sounds like a very challenging situation and I hear the angst (if not anger) in your words. Which is totally understandable. I'm also glad that you realize "jerks come in all shapes, sizes, religions, and sexual orientation."

In addition to PFLAG, check out the Straight Spouse Network, a non-profit founded specifically for folks whose partners come out as LGBT. There are chapters nationwide and you might find some new friends, with similar stories. Good luck.

In recent years, as the marriage battle heated up and discussions about race and violence returned to the front pages (not that they ever should have left, but...), I've found myself taking that somewhat disappointing attitude that some people just are who they are and there is no point in trying to change them. i find myself slipping into that same tone with the discussion surrounding the confederate flag - namely, if in 2015 you don't see why the flag is offensive, you never will, and nothing I can say is going to change your mind. I know that's the lazy approach. How would you suggest approaching the discussion without taking such a lazy, back seat driver approach? Or do you tend to think that with some people, it isn't worth the time trying to change their minds?

I hate to think that we can't listen to each other and learn. At least sometimes. I fear that part of the problem is what I'll call the "Facebook-ization" of America. Instead of discourse, we flame, we block, we defriend. End of discussion.

There is an art to listening and to debate. It's underpinning is respect. From the getgo in many conversations, our tones are so hostile that it closes the door to a deeper understanding, or at least a greater understanding of the other person's point of view.


As an example, take a look at marriage equality. Steadily and fairly quickly, our collective views changed. Why's that? In large part because many gay people came out and talked about the fundamental right to marry. Surprise, Americans listened!


Q: That was from a recent Post article discussing Jared Fogle. My evil sister-in-law says no one wants to be sexually attracted to a same sex partner either but we're allowed to follow through on such attraction as long as we're both adults. D'oh! I've heard other whispers saying the same thing. You and I both know this is ridiculous, but can you give me a short, terse answer to counter this nonsense?

A: Jared Fogle pled guilty to pedophilia (and other charges), which is a recognized psychiatric disorder. Most pedophiles, like Fogle, are heterosexuals. You sister-in-law's conflation of pedophilia with homosexuality has no substance but is too frequently used by homophobes to tar and feather gay people. Try that - or remind her that you were "born this way" and very happy about it.

I realize it's the anger talking (and you have plenty of reason to be angry) but please don't drag liberalism into this. If your wife had left you for another man, she would probably have behaved the same loathsome way, clearing out your joint accounts and all.

A listener responds to the man whose wife left him for a woman.

I recently saw a TV news story about possible legal action against Caitlyn Jenner for that auto incident a while back. In giving the background, the news anchor said that Jenner had since announced that she "was becoming a transgender woman." Something about that phrasing struck my ear as wrong, but I'm not sure what would be "right." To me, it seems to suggest some well-defined moment when she went from he to she, but in reality, she always saw herself as a she, i.e., it's not surgery that makes one a transperson. I guess it's the "becoming" part that felt inaccurate.

That is awkward language and it also furthers misinformation about what it means to be transgender. The TV anchor would have been better saying something like: "Jenner, who recently came out as transgender..." As you know, there's no well-defined moment when he became she but rather that Jenner acknowledged her true gender identity, which has been part of her -- her entire life.


I wish our news people had a better understanding of trans issues because I keep hearing about misstatements like this one that only lead others to follow suit. Fortunately, GLAAD and NLGJA (the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association) are providing accurate information and terminology.

I'm having a hard time finding the right reaction to all the recent attention on trans individuals in our society. Here's the thing - I honestly don't care. I care intensely that each and every person have the ability and freedom to be and express exactly who they are without fear or judgment. However, on the individual level? I don't really care. I have several friends who are trans and have transitioned over the last few years and it's just a non-issue. They're the same person, in different clothes. I feel the same about friends who have come out as gay - my best friend since elementary school came out after college - she burst into tears when she told me so I gave her a hug and said "Ok." It made literally no difference to me. I'm thrilled that my friends are taking steps to find and be who they are but, other than that, it seems the same to me as any other life milestone/transition (which can often be very rocky occasions). Am I missing something? Is there some additional support I should be giving? I'm just baffled by why this is such a big deal when it all seems so normal to me.

Honestly, I wish you'd care more. Take a look at this excerpt from The Advocate about US transgender murders in 2015. It's an epidemic.


So, no coming out as trans is not the same as any other milestone (are you implying like a college graduation or first job?); it's inherently risky and too often a matter of life and death. As for your gay friends, sure they can marry now, but there's also much anti-gay/lesbian violence, not to mention that they (we) can be fired in 29 states because of our sexual orientation. Open your heart deeper, my friend.


"At press time, 18 transgender women have been murdered this year alone, most of them women of color — with one additional victim whose gender identity has been disputed in press reports and among family members and activists. That exceeds the number of transgender women killed in the U.S. in all of 2014, though neither of these totals account for individuals whose deaths were not reported or investigated, nor for victims who were misgendered or not regarded as trans women in death."

The 30,000+ person company I am employed by has just announced an LGBTQ group within the company. I'm not sure if I should say "yay" or "it's about time." Are we ahead of the curve or behind it?

Welcome to the 21st century -- even though we're well into it now. I'd say both "yay" and "finally." For a company that big, you're definitely behind the 8-ball. But now's the time to look forward and help the company make sure that it's policies and benefits provide equally to LGBTQ employees and their partners/spouses.


Here's a helpful resource from HRC.

I'm a crossdresser, a label that has been consumed by "transgender." Yet to most people, transgender is transsexual. I am not. Many of my community friends are not. Presenting is something we do sometimes. But if I say I'm "trans" the listener immediately assumes "changing genders." I'm not a fan of labels, but I would like a simple description. I want my word back.

You're absolutely right that being a 'crossdresser' is different than being 'transgender. I like how HRC explains the difference:


Is there a difference between cross-dressing and being transgender?

Yes, cross-dressing refers to people who wear clothing and/or makeup and accessories that are not traditionally associated with their biological sex. 

Many people who cross-dress are comfortable with their assigned sex and generally do not wish to change it. Cross-dressing is a form of gender expression that is not necessarily indicative of a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation.


Instead of saying that you're "trans," why don't you stick with "crossdresser?"

Can I dress in drag for Halloween and wear a sash that says "Call me Caitlyn"? Bruce is in costume 365 days a year.

When I read the first sentence, I smiled and thought of the number of mostly gay men who will dress like Caitlyn Jenner this year. There's enough political correctness in the world - and Halloween is nothing but un-PC.


However, your second sentence stopped me: Your answer is no because of the mean-spirited way you put it.

Sorry, but Southern heritage started the moment Ponce DeLeon set foot in what is now Florida. The 'Stars and Bars' did not appear before 1860. (At least I have found no history of it prior to that date.) The flag's sole purpose was to rally men to battle, killing other Americans, and dying in the process. Saying the Confederate flag represents Southern Heritage is like saying the Swaztica represents German heritage. Both represent Man being guided by his ignorance and fears. They are vomitous, or at best, deeply embarrassing to those love their homelands. The American South is so much more than those four torturous years of killing. As far as history and heritage go, the Stars and Bars are the equivalent of breaking wind at a banquet. Elizabeth Patterson

One response to the flag question I posed at the top of the hour.

I expect that there are people who will defend displaying the Confederate flag until their last breath, but what I have found interesting in the past few months is that there are lots of people who are recognizing that it is highly offensive to some groups, hence are no longer supporting displaying it - not only Southern state governments but country singers, stores that might sell it, etc. We have seen a similar change with the attitude towards the name of the Washington football team - also a sea change in attitude in a short period of time.

Yes, I think that's very true and that part of this heightened sensitivity is seeing how the Confederate flag was a part of Dylann Roof's past and identity (Roof is the alleged killer in the Charleston church murders).


The first question to me today was about changing attitudes among our friends, relatives and others. This is another very good example of how time and discourse change hearts and minds.

Would it be possible for this person to express their love for their friends with the first part of their statement: " I'm thrilled that my friends are taking steps to find and be who they are" and ignore the "but" that comes after that.

That's a start but I think s/he needs to look deeper.

And it did not reappear in Southern society until the Civil Rights movement, as a symbol of resistance to Civil Rights, a resistance which is just as loathsome as the rally to battle to defend slavery.

More on the Confederate flag.

My quite southern grandmother made me the most proud when she recounted the story of how her hired help (her maid) had saved enough money to purchase a washing machine in the 1950s. Because they resided in a relatively small town and about 45 minutes away by car to the nearest moderate sized city, she went to the local merchant to purchase her washing machine. Because she was a black woman in the 1950s shopping in only store available to her, she was turned away and distraught. My grandmother, upon hearing of this marched right down to the same store, purchased a new washing machine and informed the shop owner if it wasn't delivered that afternoon to her help's address there would be southern hell to pay. She also refused to allow her maid to reimburse her for the cost of the newly delivered machine. The point of my story is that my version of southern heritage is a very determined and generous white lady that would stop at nothing to take care of the people she loved.

Thanks for sharing this story about your "southern grandmother." We could all emulate her values.

I have spoken to some southerners (including my SO) about the flag shortly after Charleston and often was met with "that's not true!" followed by some research into facts, not what they were taught in school followed by "I didn't know." It's REALLY hard on them. Empathy is in order.

Empathy is always in order.

But patience wears thin.

Especially when people are murdered.

My heart goes out to him, and especially his children. They will be dealing with the loss of their mother for the rest of their lives., wondering on some level why she rejected them. I wish him all the best, and I hope he has enough love in his heart to help his children grow up strong and happy. And go after child support!

Yes, all the way around.

Thanks to everyone who sent in their questions as well as joined in the crowd. I'll be back on Tuesday, September 8th (1 pm ET) as usual. In the meantime, have a good and safe Labor Day.

In This Chat
Steven Petrow
Steven Petrow is a respected journalist and the go-to source for modern manners. Petrow writes the "Civilities" column for The Washington Post as well as "Manners Hero" for Parade and "Medical Manners" for Everyday Health.
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