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Rainbow flag on Madrid City Hall displaced by Spanish standard

Far-right group Vox, on whose votes the PP-Ciudadanos council depends, had demanded the change, calling the gay-rights movement “a lobby that hates anyone who doesn’t think like they do”

The flags outside Madrid City Hall.
The flags outside Madrid City Hall.

Ahead of Gay Pride week in Madrid, the rainbow flag has once again been hung from the Palacio de Cibeles, the building in the center of the Spanish capital that is home to City Hall. The standard has been on display on the façade during the “Orgullo Gay” week since 2015, when the then-mayor, Manuela Carmena of left-leaning Más Madrid, first started the tradition in a bid to demonstrate the municipal government’s commitment to the LGBTQI cause.

But this year things are slightly different. Rather than being hung from the center of the building, the rainbow flag – a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride – is shorter than in previous years, and has been placed to one side by the new city government, which is led by the conservative Popular Party (PP) and Ciudadanos (Citizens) in coalition, with support from far-right party Vox.

With the arrival of the new government to Madrid City Hall, doubts were raised as to whether the council would fly the flag at all

“We were the first and I’m very proud to be mayor of a capital that took such an important step,” Carmena said back in 2015, when the flag was flown for the very first time outside City Hall. Gay-rights associations COGAM and FELGTB called the moment a “milestone after so many years of struggle,” and “a unique, historic moment, which will never be erased from our hearts.”

With the arrival of the new government to Madrid City Hall on June 15, doubts were raised as to whether the council would fly the flag at all, given that during the election campaign, Vox had insisted that it would move the Gay Pride festivities out of the city center, and into the Casa de Campo park. But both Ciudadanos and the PP insisted that they would continue the practice.

Vox had also, however, suggested that it would be better to fly a Spanish flag outside the building. And so it has come to pass, with a large yellow-and-red standard on display in the place where, in previous years, the rainbow flag had appeared. The Spanish flag is located just below another one, which is flying from a flagpole.

The location [of the flag] was a decision made by the Heritage department

Begoña Villacís, Ciudadanos

Vox had previously sent a message via its social media accounts to the PP mayor of Madrid, José Luis Martínez-Almeida, saying that if he “wants to show that Madrid respects the rights of everyone, whatever their sexual orientation, they should unfurl a Spanish flag, which belongs to everyone, not the flag of a lobby that hates anyone who doesn’t think like they do.”

“This is an attempt to hide the LGBT flag,” said José Manuel Calvo, a councilor from the Más Madrid party, which won most votes at the recent municipal elections but fell short of a majority. “They have put it in a much less-visible place, at a time when, I believe, we have to be fighting for the rights of LGBT people, and that is what the Madrid council should prioritize. We didn’t expect this from this government, of course. It has to keep making nods to Vox and in the end we can see that it is the far right, with those four councilors, that is setting the agenda of the government.”

A number of PP and Ciudadanos councilors attended the unfurling of the rainbow flag, headed by the deputy mayor, Begoña Villacís, of the latter party. The mayor was not present. “The location [of the flag] was a decision made by the Heritage department,” Villacís claimed, thus saying that the change of location had not been a concession to Vox. “Speaking as a lesbian, this woman does not represent me,” said a girl in the crowd, who had come to Cibeles with her partner.

Despite the fact that Madrid is, generally speaking, an open and tolerant city, LGBT-phobic attacks continue to be registered, with 345 reported in 2018, 7.5% up on the year before.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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