Have you seen ‘em? Those multi-colored flags waving in the breezes downtown and at City Hall? Do you know what they stand for? And how they got there?
Those flags, installed on June 1, are Selma’s contribution to Pride Month, embraced nationwide by America’s LGBTQ community. By community, I mean Americans who identify as LGBTQ as well as their families, friends and supporters.
That was the spirit that led Selma’s Leslie Nelson to approach the City Council in February to propose that the City of Selma officially recognize June as Pride Month and honor it by hanging the LGBTQ's traditional colorful flags.
In March, the council unanimously approved supporting Pride Month. The flags went up and a proclamation was featured at this week’s meeting.
Few know the power of the Pride Flag better than Lance Nelson, Leslie’s youngest son. Lance, 33, is a gay man currently majoring in Human Rights at Columbia University in New York City.
His transformation from a kid who hated school (Selma High Class of 2006) to studying at an Ivy League university is an object lesson in the power of the rainbow.
After difficult junior high and high school years marred by homophobic bullying — “I was a smaller, thin kid who hung around with girls,” he said — Lance Nelson escaped to Southern California. Finally, at age 30, he decided to take another stab at education.
His first day at San Diego Mesa community college, a terrified Nelson almost didn’t get out of his car. Until he looked up and saw Pride Flags hanging on campus.
“It’s difficult to explain, but seeing that flag and what it meant was a sign of support,” he said. “They valued diversity.
“It saved my life.”
So the Nelsons, Mom and Son, are hoping those same multi-colored flags in downtown Selma might offer support to some other LBGTQ person struggling with acceptance and lack of support.
Appealing for City recognition was a team effort (Lance Nelson provided a Power Point display at the council meeting), and it emphasized another form of support — a loving family.
Away from school, “I had a great childhood,” Lance said. “Great parents and siblings. I was very aware I had a supportive family.”
In an interview last week he praised his mother as “the most giving person I’ve ever met” and said they have grown closer since he came out as a gay man.
“We couldn’t be more proud of him,” Leslie Nelson said of her son. “It has taken him many, many hard years of working towards being comfortable in who he is, and he wants to hopefully help others from the turmoil he went through.
“Even with the love and acceptance of your family it can be very difficult to balance your life.”
Mother and son hope the flags flying over Selma’s downtown streets for one month can provide support and also some education.
Lance explained: “I have lived in a lot of big cities, and I thought, ‘Why can’t we have that in smaller towns where they need it most?’ If I had seen a Pride flag while growing up [in Selma] it could have helped me.
“I thought I was the only gay person in Selma at that time.”
Two goals he said, are teaching the LBGTQ community to understand that they belong to a larger culture whose contributions aren’t taught in history classes, and opening a dialogue.
“It’s not about waving it in people’s faces,” he said. “It’s about accepting other people and welcoming those contributions. And starting a conversation.”
For Leslie Nelson, who also directs the Clean Up Selma campaign through the Selma Beautification Committee, it is just another way of helping her community.
“We hope that by Selma recognizing Pride it will help others of the LGBTQ community to feel more welcome and accepted in their own town,” she said.
“We also hope that the schools here in Selma will learn to recognize bullying of their students and make them feel they have a safe haven in their schools and town and not feel the need to run away to a place they feel more accepted.”