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Rainbow flags fly against hate

You don’t have to mark the changes in law, from Albany to Washington, D.C., to mark the change.

Just head to a quiet, working-class street in North Buffalo.

This isn’t Allentown or another historically gay-friendly enclave. It’s a block of modest two-story, wood-frame homes, an Ozzie-and-Harriet throwback of leashed dogs and mowed lawns in the shadow of Kenmore Avenue.

Near the center of the street, from houses near the place where it happened, fly a mix of rainbow and American flags. It’s an unexpected display, startling to anyone who doesn’t know the story – and reassuring to those who do.

Deep into a warm night last summer, soon after the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling, hate came to the home of Dan and Alexandra Palmer. The married couple, to celebrate with gay friends, flew a rainbow “gay pride” flag – multicolored stripes, with the traditional 50 stars – from the front porch.

Alexandra was leaving for work a few mornings later when she saw it. The flag – or what was left of it, after the fire went out – lay flat on the front lawn. In the center was a note saying they had “dishonored” the American flag and used it in a way that God “does not approve of.” And if they did it again, it would be burned again.

“I know there’s crazy people out there,” Alex told me, standing on her front porch, “but I didn’t think anyone would come up on our property. He could’ve burned our house down.”

Police were called, neighbors interviewed. No arrest has been made.

As much progress as we make, hate still shows its face. More interesting to me, though, than the anti-gay vandalism was the response to it.

As word of what happened spread along the street, requests for rainbow flags came in. The Pride Center of WNY obliged. The flags still fly, as summer turns to fall. Nine rainbow banners in all, as well as four American flags, in support of the constitutional decree that “all men are created equal.”

Even gay men. And gay women.

“This isn’t about us, it’s about the larger movement,” Dan Palmer told me. “This is our house, and we’re allowed to express our feelings.”

She’s 26, he’s 27, local natives who bought the house two years ago. They struck me as thoughtful but private people – Dan, thin and bearded, had to be coaxed by his wife to speak. But they stand by their convictions and had the courage to go public – although, out of understandable caution, asked me not include the street name.

“The support was great to see,” said Alex, who works for an eco-solutions company. “People just came out for us.”

To Dan Palmer, the banners are victory flags.

“If the person who did this lives around here,” he said, “he realizes he’s the loser.”

I think back to a gay pride rally a quarter-century ago, held behind the Historical Society to provide cover to still-closeted gays. As recently as a decade ago, I didn’t imagine that gay marriage would be legalized in my lifetime. Or that an openly gay couple wouldn’t prompt a sideways glance from most people at the mall.

Or, for that matter, that folks on a working-class street would trot their gay-friendliness out of the closet, in support of a neighbor.

Mimi Schultz is a teacher with four kids – ages 10 through 15 – who lives near the Palmers. She saw Alexandra Palmer that sunny summer morning, weeping on her front lawn.

“I told her, ‘You can’t back down, you need another flag, and we’ll get one, too,’ ” Schultz told me, fire in her eyes and a small, silver crucifix hanging from her neck. “They’re a wonderful young couple with open minds, like we all should have.”

Earlier this year, a part-time Cheektowaga police cellblock attendant lost his job after an anti-gay Facebook rant over a couple flying a pride flag. He wondered what he was supposed to tell his kids – as if exposure to a rainbow flag might twist their psyche or damage their development.

Mimi Schultz, daughter Molly standing beside her, wanted no part of that idiocy.

“My kids are very proud of our flag,” Schultz told me. “They think whoever did this is ignorant.”

Molly, 12, heard the words and nodded.

“I think that rainbows are cool,” she said.

On a working-class street in Buffalo, flags are flying, in the winds of change.