The following piece was provided by First Parish Church of Watertown:
The flag mounted outside of First Parish on Church Street was frayed and torn. It was a “Progress Pride” flag, a colorful multi-colored banner symbolizing the church’s commitment to welcoming people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. But it had been worn out by the winds, rain, sun and snow of New England weather. It definitely needed to be replaced.
The Progress Flag is a multi-color banner of bars and chevron bands that has replaced the original “rainbow flag” celebrating members of the gay and lesbian communities. It retains the original six-colored stripes that evoke a rainbow, a symbol of hope. But it also includes new colored stripes in the shape of an arrow that affirms the inclusion of transgender, gender non-binary, and intersex individuals (pink, light blue, and white) as well as people of color (black, brown) who are most vulnerable to gender or sexual identity discrimination and harassment.
The congregation at First Parish could have replaced the old Progress Pride flag simply by buying a new one and raising it again as a symbol of the church as a “Welcoming Congregation.” That’s an official status within the Unitarian Universalist Association, indicating that the church welcomes people of all gender identities and sexual orientations — lesbian, gay, transgender, queer, intersex, or questioning (often represented by the acronym “LGBTQIA+). First Parish officially received that designation 20 years ago, in April 2002.
But instead of just mounting a new banner, First Parish chose to celebrate the new Progress Pride flag with a formal rededication ceremony. On April 24, members of the church community gathered on the lawn with the church’s Religious Education Director, Lauren Strauss, for a ceremony to reaffirm and celebrate First Parish of Watertown as a Welcoming Congregation. The ceremony was scheduled to coincide with the National Day of Silence, an annual observance protesting the harmful effects of harassment and discrimination against LGBTQIA+ people in schools.
Rev. Sophia Lyons, the church’s new minister, highlighted the importance of this rededication ceremony. “As Unitarian Universalists we commit ourselves to centering those in our world who have been, and continue to be, silenced and marginalized. By raising our new LGBTQIA+ flag on this year’s Day of Silence we brought awareness to those silenced, oppressed voices. I see this as a bold expression of our faith which is rooted in love and collective liberation. I am proud to serve a people who are committed to this at First Parish.”
This welcoming stance is important to long-time members at First Parish and newcomers alike. Will Twombly, a member of First Parish for 40 years, said, “The new, inclusive rainbow flag hanging outside of First Parish tells the world that we, as a congregation, are truly committed to welcoming and caring for ALL people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. As part of the church community, I feel a special sense of pride, along with a reaffirmed obligation to fulfill this promise.”
Lis Stark, new to the First Parish community, said that the Welcoming Congregation status was “a critical part of my decision to join worship services. I need a place to feel accepted, so I can really be secure and focus on worship.”
Jeri Bayer, another member for many years, spoke personally about the Progress Pride flag’s importance to her. “As a lesbian, it’s critical to me that my congregation be truly welcoming to all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender, racial, or cultural identity, or socioeconomic status. Seeing the flag whenever I attend church, or drive up Church Street, reminds me of what a good home a church can be.”
The traditionally and historically significant Rainbow Flag is now internationally recognized, originally recognized as a proclamation that effectively represents inclusion, diversity and unity. Each color does not represent one group specifically, but all the colors together represent everyone, all of us and always has. Who is represented the Orange or Green bars? By changing the design to represent one group or another diminishes the message of the historically significant, original message and proclamation. Speaking for myself, there is not a color on either flag that represents me, should I design a new flag more appropriate for me? I have marched and stood behind or under that flag for over 35 years and always felt represented by all the colors together, now I’m not so sure.
There are many variations of the rainbow flag. Respect them all. No problem!