Pride Flag Held Hostage

And why the Space Needle should have held out even longer.

The dirty truth about extortion is that it works. And nowhere is that truth more evident than in the saga of the Space Needle and the gay-pride flag. The controversy began earlier this month, when Space Needle Corporation, the private company that owns Seattle's most iconic landmark, announced that, unlike last year when the rainbow flag flew for the first time in the city's history, it wouldn't be flying during this year's Pride Week. The Needle explained its decision as a matter of fairness: Its spokesperson said the company tried to avoid flying the same flag twice and had already turned down eight other flags just this year, a line of reasoning that satisfied almost no one. The Needle's Facebook page quickly overflowed with outraged comments, many of them noting that the company didn't seem to hold to its one-and-done policy when it came to the Seahawks' 12th Man flag, often raised on the rare occasions when the team makes the playoffs. Other online activists took their anger to Change.org, where a petition to pressure the Needle to fly the flag got 9,000 signatures in only 10 days. Perhaps sensing that the public outcry was growing unmanageable, roughly two weeks after the controversy erupted, the Needle came up with a compromise: Raise $50,000 for four LGBT-friendly charities and you'll have your flag. There was precedent for this kind of do-gooder extortion. In 2005, the Needle took advantage of the Husky/Cougar rivalry to raise nearly $165,000 for Habitat for Humanity, eventually flying the crimson and gray of victor Washington State. For the first three days of the gay-pride fund-raiser, things seemed to be going equally well, as it took in more than $15,000. Then, last Wednesday, in yet another concession, the Needle issued a new press release, this time announcing that no other donations were necessary—the flag would fly this upcoming Sunday, the last day of Pride Week, whether the goal was reached or not. Predictably, after removing the carrot, the Needle's stick proved much less effective. As of noon on Monday, the campaign had only managed $70 since the end of the weekend, $50 of which came from a woman misguidedly believing that the company was still holding the gay-pride flag hostage. Whether you think the Needle should have agreed to raise the flag from the very beginning or was right to deny the rainbow a second flight probably depends on any number of factors, including, presumably, your orientation, both political and otherwise. But one thing is for certain: Once the company rescinded its ransom note, a lot fewer people were willing to pay.

 
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