Pride and inclusion in a local community
As Vanguard celebrates Pride Month, we are excited to share a personal story from a crew member in Arizona. Adele P. and her husband have cultivated an inclusive culture within their neighborhood. Here’s how they did it:
When I bought my home in early 2019, I noticed how many flags there were in my neighborhood. Most of them were the good ‘ole red, white, and blue, but there were others as well. My home had a flag mount already and by the time I bought a pole, LGBT Pride Month was just around the corner, so I ordered a Pride flag to show my support. However, when schools started shutting down in early 2020, I was surprised by a knock on my door – three teens stopped by to thank me for putting up the flag, stating that with school going virtual, they had been walking around the neighborhood just to hang out. Two of the three identified as LGBT+ and said they really appreciated knowing that someone in the neighborhood supported them as they weren’t getting the acceptance they needed at home.
A couple weeks later, I received letters from two other teens, both identifying as LGBT+, who were in similar situations. They asked if my husband and I would be their pen pals over the next couple months, so I made a mailbox out of a large peanut butter jar that I decorated and put in a flower pot by our door so that they could pick up and drop off letters without being afraid of a family member reading something they weren’t yet ready to share.
It was incredibly moving to see how desperately these kids needed to connect with someone who accepted them. Further, it reminded me of the struggles LGBT youth are still facing today. For this reason, I decided to formally invite my neighbors to drop us a line if they were experiencing challenges as well. In June of 2020, I made signs out of left over pegboard my sister had given me and some acrylic paints we had on hand. One read “Happy Pride, Take a Flag” with a flowerpot of pride flags next to it. Another one read “Depressed, Lonely, Scared, Queer? Leave a letter, we’ll write back. Love Wins.” and we bought a small mailbox to hang up underneath it. During this period, I also ordered a second flag pole and purchased a “Black Lives Matter” flag to hang up on the other side of our garage. I don’t know what I was expecting. I think I was feeling disconnected to people the same way we all were. And I assumed that if five teens contacted me, there were probably a few more that were afraid to or hadn’t thought about it. What I got was letters and notes from people of all age ranges and backgrounds. One was from a delivery truck driver who opened up about their drug addiction recovery and was struggling with their family trusting them again. A few were from likeminded neighbors showing support and introducing themselves. One letter was from a young woman back from college, a first generation college student, who was having a hard time connecting with her parents who were proud of her but didn’t understand what she was going through. There were also many kids, ages 10-18, who were afraid to come out to their parents and just needed someone to share their identities with. Slowly we saw our little flags spread down the street, like weeds of inclusion as the 80+ flags we offered were collected throughout the month.
The moment that made me the happiest, was when a trans boy stopped by to chat. Near the end of our conversation he mentioned that his friend made him a friendship bracelet and he really wanted to wear it, but it was pink. My husband, an artist that was wearing a rainbow of colors that day, stopped him and said, “Don’t replace one toxic set of beliefs with another. If you want to be a boy who wears a pink bracelet, be a boy who wears a pink bracelet! Don’t let the opinion of others keep you from being who you are!” As this boy received validation from a man who was also wearing pink, he grinned bigger than I’ve ever seen, eyes tearing up, as he put on his bracelet and left.
We’re still receiving about two letters per month, but even more than that are the waves we get from children when they ride past our home on their bikes as well as the smiles we get from our neighbors as they’re walking their dogs. It cost less than $50 between the flags and small mailbox to invite our neighbors into our lives, and I’m so glad we did. This last year has been rough on everyone. Everyone feels the loss of community when their social circles are cut off from them. It’s become clear that these visual signs of inclusion have been important, and I believe they’ll remain important as we get back to our lives and move beyond the pandemic. Because of this, these signs and flags are here to stay for as long as we live in this home.