he LGBTQ+ pride flag flies beneath the American flag at the Stonewall National Monument, Oct. 11, 2017, in New York. Source: AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File

LGBTQ+ Pride Flags at VA Facilities in Mississippi Draw GOP Criticism, Protests

Emily Wagster Pettus READ TIME: 2 MIN.

All the Republicans in Mississippi's congressional delegation are demanding that the Veterans Administration remove an LGBTQ+ pride flag from the Biloxi National Cemetery, and some residents on the Mississippi Gulf Coast are protesting a pride flag that's flying at a VA hospital.

"Replacing the United States flag with a flag that promotes a particular sexual or gender identity goes against the very mission of our national cemeteries," U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith and Republican Reps. Mike Ezell, Michael Guest, and Trent Kelly wrote Monday in a letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough.

The only Democrat in Mississippi's congressional delegation, Rep. Bennie Thompson, did not sign the letter.

Several people protested Monday outside the Biloxi VA Medical Center, where a rainbow flag has been flying along with several U.S. flags. The rainbow flag was added Thursday to mark June as LGBTQ+ Pride Month.

"We don't need a flag for each nationality or each different group of people," Richard Boyanton, a Vietnam War veteran, told WLOX-TV. "The American flag represents everyone."

VA Press Secretary Terrence Hayes said in a statement to The Associated Press on Tuesday: "Protest is a fundamental part of our democracy, and we respect anyone's right to protest VA for any reason."

McDonough has authorized flying of the pride flag at all VA facilities throughout Pride Month, as he has done in previous years, "as a symbol of VA's commitment to inclusion and as a tribute to the service and sacrifice of LGBTQ+ Veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors," Hayes said.

Ezell last week sent a separate letter to McDonough and the interim director of the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System, saying that only government and military flags should be flown by the U.S. flag on VA property.

Hayes said the VA will respond directly to members of Congress.

Last week, President Joe Biden's administration stopped U.S. military bases from hosting drag shows after criticism from some Republicans, amid a broader push in conservative-led states targeting LGBTQ+ celebrations.

On Tuesday, Human Rights Campaign – the nation's largest organization devoted to the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Americans – declared a state of emergency for LGBTQ+ people in the U.S. and released a guidebook pointing to laws it deems discriminatory in each state.

by Emily Wagster Pettus

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