DANBURY — Last June, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Danbury decided to fly a rainbow flag outside of its site to show everyone is welcome.
Since then, the flag has been burned twice and stolen a few weeks ago. But instead of deterring the congregation from hanging another in its place, an outpouring of donated flags came in from individuals and faith communities.
On Sunday, U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty presented the congregation with a new pride flag to replace the one stolen in May.
“However many flags it takes, we’ll just keep putting them up and however many hours it takes on the floor, we’ll do it,” Esty told the congregation during Sunday’s service.
Esty has been trying to present the new flag for several months. When she learned it was the Rev. Barbara Fast’s last Sunday with the congregation, she pushed the trip to the top of her list.
“When I read about what was happening here and the desecrating of this flag of hope and love and peace, I wanted to be here,” Esty said.
“The rainbow flag is symbolic of that welcome," Fast said. She said she gives the donated flags to other centers of faith to help spread the message. One of the flags even flew above Danbury City Hall last Tuesday, during a multi-faith and multi-culutral vigil in honor of those killed in Orlando.
She said it was very meaningful to receive the flag from Esty, which she plans to hang at the congregation’s site, along with the framed certificates and a history of how the flag was donated.
“It was a wonderful affirmation and encouraging to us to know that other people, particularly people in government, support the inclusion of LGBTQ persons as full human beings with equal rights," Fast said.
Fast said she and the congregation were honored and humbled to receive the flag, but said so much more needs to be done. She said actions, such as hanging the pride flag and the sit-in the Democratic representatives held in the House last week inspired hope that something can be done to reduce gun violence and spread love.
“It gives me hope that Connecticut is leading the effort to reduce gun violence in the U.S.," Fast said.
She said every human has worth and should be showed love. She encouraged everyone to show this on a daily basis because the world’s future depends on it.
While Sunday’s service focused on love and hope, both Esty and fast acknowledged previous tragedies, including the shootings at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, the church in Charleston last year and at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Fast wore a Sandy Hook Promise pin and Esty wore a blazer of Sandy Hook green, the same color as the middle strip on the flag.
“You are a beacon of life and love in this country,“ Esty told the congregation.
Esty urged the community to stand up to hate and violence with love and a desire to learn about and understand their fellow man. This ideology was exemplified at an educational dinner she attended at a mosque in Meridan Saturday night. Among the guests was a man who had fired at the mosque in November in the wake of the Paris shootings. He was there with friends to learn more about his Muslim neighbors, Esty said.
“We need your voices and we need your love and we need your power," Esty said.
Esty has advocated for equality in the LGBTQ community for years. She gave her first gay-rights speech when she was 15 in 1974, four years before her brother came out.
She said the support she sees across the country has given her hope that Congress might be able to pass legislation to reduce gun violence. She said the recent sit-in was a show of strength and a message that the gridlock in Congress wasn’t acceptable. She added she hoped it bolstered Americans to show they can stand up to the gun lobby and demand action. She viewed the congregation displaying the pride flag also as a strong message against hate and violence.
“You can respond with love and resoluteness and I think that’s what you’re seeing here," Esty said after the service
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