NORRISTOWN -- As onlookers reacted with thunderous applause, Montgomery County officials joined members of the LGBTQI+ community to raise the Progress Pride Flag at the county courthouse in celebration of Pride Month.

“Pride Month is a time to celebrate and honor the leaders of the past and to recommit to the work that remains to ensure that the LGBTQI+ community is free of discrimination and that discrimination becomes a historical footnote,” county Commissioners’ Chairwoman Valerie A. Arkoosh addressed a crowd of several dozen people, including county judges and row officers, who attended Tuesday’s ceremony.

“Montgomery County is flying Pride flags at all of our county offices and facilities through the month of June. Montgomery County is committed to expanding non-discrimination policies, embracing diversity, equity and inclusion and being clear that every person is valued and welcomed here,” Arkoosh added.

The county first raised the Pride Flag in 2019.

This year, in addition to the six distinct stripes -- red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet -- that have been the traditional rainbow symbol of the LGBT community, the Progress Pride Flag features black and brown stripes to represent people of color and baby blue, pink and white to represent the transgender community.

“Until LGBTQ+ folks of color are invited to every table where decisions are being made, our community will not know what true pride, pride in each other, actually means,” said Melissa Buckminster, president of the Montgomery County LGBT Business Council.

“Although the flag that we’re raising today, which was created to highlight trans and folks of color within the LGBTQ+ community, is a step towards a more equal future, it is not a means to an end. It is a reminder that that end, that more equal future, counts on us. It counts on community, it counts on neighbors and corporations and organizations to come together and hold each other accountable, work toward and insist upon long-lasting, meaningful, impactful change,” Buckminster added.

County Commissioner Kenneth E. Lawrence Jr. said he was pleased that many municipalities in the county have also joined county leaders and raised Pride Flags at the municipal level.

“I want to acknowledge the sacrifice and hard work that the LGBTQI community is doing to help advance human rights and equity across the nation and here in Montgomery County,” Lawrence said. “In Montgomery County, we want to make it clear that all are welcome and we support everyone, no matter their gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, religion, or income level.”

Speakers pointed out that Montgomery County leaders have expanded policies to prohibit discrimination and embrace inclusiveness, including covering domestic partners in the county’s employment insurance program. Officials also noted Montgomery County Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes made history in 2013 when his office was the first in the state to issue marriage licenses for same sex couples.

As of January 2021 about one-third of the county’s municipalities have passed LGBTQ inclusive local, non-discrimination ordinances and among all states, Pennsylvania has the most local non-discrimination ordinances adopted, according to officials.

“But that is not nearly enough. Non-discrimination measures must be adopted across our commonwealth and across our country,” Arkoosh said. “There is much work that needs to be done.”

Lori Schreiber, the first openly gay person elected to office in the county when she was elected as an Abington Township commissioner in 2015 and who is now the elected county Clerk of Courts, said “it is wonderful and inspiring” to see the Progress Pride Flag flying at county facilities.

“It’s a positive message needed for our young people, to protect their mental health and help them feel a sense of self-pride. But we should also remember that we live in a bubble, that hate crimes still happen and hate speech still flourishes,” Schreiber addressed the crowd.

Raising the Pride Flag, Schreiber said, is about visibility.

“Visibility so that we can have life, so that people, especially young people, who may not be quite as fortunate as I have been, will not feel overwhelmed and alone but can feel instead, the validation of a loving community,” Schreiber said.

Mark Barbee, the first openly gay African American mayor of Bridgeport, was pleased to participate in the event.

“It is a tremendous honor to stand here in representation of the Borough of Bridgeport and LGBT people of color in Montgomery County,” Barbee said.

Aneesah Smith, director of Diversity Equity & Inclusion at Penn State Abington, urged supporters to speak out every day against cultural appropriation, tokenism, colorism and microaggression.

“Whether you’re an activist, an educator, a parent or a politician, you must listen to the experiences of queer and trans people of color. Notice when their faces and their voices are missing from the table and make every effort to showcase them in our history and in our present day accomplishments,” Smith said. “Those black and brown stripes that have been added to that flag mean everything to those of us who are sometimes literally hanging on the margins of the rainbow.

“We can’t celebrate Pride and turn our backs on our black and brown siblings in our community. With that said, Happy Pride, more color, more Pride,” Smith closed the ceremony, which was followed by the raising of the Pride Flag in the courthouse yard.

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