For the first time in its history, the iconic flagpole at San Francisco's Harvey Milk Plaza raised the pink, white and blue transgender flag at a ceremony marking the eve of the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, which takes place on November 20.
"This is a celebration of the great transgender people who have come before us, and the celebration of the great transgender people who are still with us," activist La Moni Stat told SFist at the ceremony. "In numbers we find strength."
The decision to raise the flag came after a weeks of conflict between the Merchants of Upper Market and Castro and a group of transgender activists, who have advocated temporarily replacing the enormous rainbow flag that typically flies there.
Activists initially hoped to have the trans flag flown at half-mast to honor the victims of anti-trans violence. However, the merchants' association balked at the suggestion, citing safety concerns.
This decision angered many in the community because the group regularly allows the "leather flag" to fly during the run-up to the Folsom Street Fair and the bear flag on President's Day.
In response, transgender rights activists circulated an online petition that gathered over 1,200 signatures, held a protest in front of a store owned by merchant's association president Terry Bennett and threatened to stage another demonstration over the flag on Tuesday night. The association eventually relented and agreed to fly the flag, although only at full height.
"This has been a difficult conversation and emotions run very high in both directions on the issue," Bennett said in a statement announcing the decision to fly the flag. "Over the last two years the MUMC Board has been overwhelmed with requests to alter or change the flag. These requests have regularly been accompanied by a great deal of personal attacks, blatant bullying and harassment. Due to these attacks it has made it very difficult to consider any requests."
Others stand firm that the rainbow flag should be the only flag that flies over the Castro. "It should fly at full-staff, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year," famed local activist and Harvey Milk associate Cleve Jones told the San Francisco Chronicle. "People should just leave the damn flag alone."
The Castro flagpole was originally erected and operated by Gilbert Baker, who also designed the original rainbow flag that has since come to define the LGBT movement. Baker transferred the day-to-day operation of the flagpole to the merchants' association in 2001.
The trans flag was created by Monica Helms, a transgender woman, in 1999. It was first flown at a pride parade in Phoenix, Ariz., the following year. Helms described the logic behind her flag's coloring:
The stripes at the top and bottom are light blue, the traditional color for baby boys. The stripes next to them are pink, the traditional color for baby girls. The stripe in the middle is white, for those who are intersex, transitioning or consider themselves having a neutral or undefined gender. The pattern is such that no matter which way you fly it, it is always correct, signifying us finding correctness in our lives"
A march celebrating the Transgender Day of Remembrance is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Tuesday evening starting at San Francisco's City Hall and ending at City of Refuge in the South of Marker neighborhood.