Flags have long been a point of pride, for countries and communities alike — which is the impetus behind a Utah nonprofit’s efforts to help people show their pride and support of LGBTQ+ people.
“This isn’t just about acceptance, it’s about empowerment,” said Jacey Thornton, executive director of Project Rainbow Utah, a nonprofit working to place the rainbow pride flag and the blue-white-pink transgender flag with people who want to display them.
Project Rainbow delivered blue, white and pink transgender flags last weekend, to mark International Transgender Day of Visibility on Friday. The group will pick the flags back up on Saturday.
Raising the flag, Thornton said, means “showing that you support, that you’re a safe space, because this world is still not safe. We’re still not fully protected under law in the state of Utah.”
Thornton said they want to focus on trans youth voices this year — in light of the Utah State Legislature’s move to ban gender-affirming health care for Utah’s transgender youth, and because of school bans of the display of pride flags.
Earlier this month, KUTV2 reported, a high school in Lehi posted photos on their social media accounts that cropped out a pride flag in the background. In 2021, students at a Cache County high school cut down a pride flag, while in Kaysville a pride flag was stolen and later burned.
When asked if Project Rainbow Utah’s organizers are concerned if their flags will be stolen or vandalized, Thornton said, “typically, when a flag gets stolen, there’s press around it, and then those flags are replaced by a whole street of flags. That has an unintended consequence that love overcomes hate every time.”
Thornton said there has been more interest in the project this year than in past years. They said that, too often, the Transgender Day of Visibility is “one of those missed opportunities for people to show their support for the trans community.”
“This is the power of Utah,” Thornton said. “Too often it gets lost in the fray.”
As someone who went through their transition later in life, Thornton said they have received support from many of the friends they made when they served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“To really understand this bigger paradigm of love and support in our state is so important, and for it not to be us and them,” Thornton said.
The importance placed on flags played out in this year’s Utah State Legislature session. After years of public comment and panels finalizing a design, legislators approved a new state flag — featuring a beehive in a hexagon, over a stylized design of mountains. After it passed the Utah House and Senate, opponents of the new flag launched a referendum effort to put the change on a statewide ballot.
On Tuesday, Gov. Spencer Cox signed SB31, approving the new flag, which will become official in May. However, he also signed an executive order that preserves the status of the old flag — the “historical” flag, with the Utah state seal on a blue field — by requiring it, not the new flag, to fly over the Utah State Capitol dome, and to be flown on state holidays.
Meanwhile, Riley Adamson, CEO of the Utah tech company Cortex, showed his allyship in flag form — making and selling a pride-themed version of the new state flag, with rainbow colors and stripes of pink and baby blue. Adamson also chronicles his design projects, many of them supporting the LGBTQ+ community, on his TikTok account.
Adamson said he launched the project because he thinks the new flag isn’t inclusive to Utah’s Indigenous tribes. (The flag’s earlier design included an eight-point star, to represent the eight Indigenous tribes of Utah; it was amended to a five-point star, for the state’s five historically recognized tribes.) That got him thinking how the flag wasn’t inclusive to other Utah groups.
“Flags, whether people like it or not, are really emblems of that society, and are embraced in many different aspects and kind of a representation of what we value and what we care about,” Adamson said.
He said he wanted a flag that was much more inclusive.
“I grew up here in Utah and I was very naive to the queer community and the concerns the community has,” Adamson said. “[This] is part of my effort to lend my voice and say, ‘Hey, this is something I value, this is something I care about.’ I want to make sure everyone’s represented.”
It’s an unspoken comfort, Thornton said — like seeing an American flag in a foreign country.
“The same holds true for our queer flags, it says, like, ‘You’re seen here,’” they said. “It breaks down barriers [and] creates community. Ultimately, the symbology of any pride flag is that you’re seen, loved and that you deeply matter to somebody.”