US embassy in Latvia flew rainbow flag despite policy switch

Take note – story published 5 years ago

In recent years US diplomatic missions around the world would hoist a rainbow flag alongside the US flag as a gesture of solidarity during the annual “LGBT Pride Month”.

This year, however, such campaigns had to be coordinated with the Trump administration's stance. As a result, US embassies in several countries, Latvia among them, took the decision themselves, reported LSM's Russian service on June 16.

In the past, flying the rainbow flag was common practice. The US State Department would send out instructions on how to celebrate “Pride Month”, which begins in the middle of May. This was the case in 2011, when the Obama administration ordered agencies involved with foreign policy to start advocating for LGBT rights.

One of the guidelines stated that the rainbow flag should be smaller than the US flag and fly beneath it on the same mast. Washington had to be informed of any plans the embassy had of showing solidarity, but in 2016, the right to decide on the issue was left to the ambassadors themselves.

After Mike Pompeo became secretary of state in 2018, the procedures changed: agencies involved with foreign policy had to gain permission to hoist the flag. “The Washington Post” reported that whereas last year the US State Department approved all requests, this year it had approved none.

With the start of “Pride Month”, several embassies either found ways to bypass the regulations or disregarded them. Embassies in Israel and India were aglow with the colors of the rainbow flag, while the facades of the missions South Korea and Norway rippled with massive rainbow flags. Many other embassies flew the LGBT flag on a separate mast, or even the same mast with the US flag. 

The embassy in Latvia also chose to hoist the rainbow flag on the mast. Photos showing the hoisted flag were accompanied by the following message: “On this sunny Friday, we are raising the Pride flag on the mast. The ambassador Nancy Bikoff Pettit said this is a symbol of America's promise to protect LGBTI rights as well as human rights in general.”

LSM's Russian service asked the US embassy to Latvia to confirm or deny the press reports, especially the ban on flying the rainbow flag.

“The U.S. Embassy in Riga commemorated International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (IDAHOT) on May 17 with international partners and friends, NGOs, and other public officials to raise awareness of human rights violations and discrimination directed against members of the LGBT community throughout the world. As a matter of policy, we do not discuss matters of internal procedures. The Embassy is proud to support equal human rights for all groups regardless of gender, race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation,” the US embassy informed LSM's Russian service.

Many other embassies in Latvia also flew the rainbow flag. 

Nancy Bikoff Pettit is approaching the end of her tenure as the US ambassador to Latvia. In May, the White House announced President Trump's intention to nominate John Leslie Carwile to the post. Carwile, a career diplomat, currently serves as the deputy director of the Office of Career Development and Assignments in the State Department. He has previously served at the US embassies in Brunei, Nepal, Italy, Iraq, and Canada. His candidacy is yet to be approved by the US Senate.

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