We have to admit that we’re going to miss Mike Pence now that he has moved to his official residence at 1 Observatory Circle.
As vice president-elect, Pence lived across the street from us on Tennyson Street for the past two months, and he changed our lives in ways we could never have imagined.
Frankly, our initial reaction upon hearing that Pence was moving in was “there goes the neighborhood.” Upon further reflection, and after speaking to our millennial son, we decided we would hang a rainbow flag from the front of our house. For Joanna, the message was a direct response to Pence’s hateful policies on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. For Stephen, the rainbow flag was a symbol of universality and coexistence.
It occurred to us that an even stronger message could be sent if our immediate neighbors joined in our respectful protest. Eleven responded enthusiastically, and we placed an order for rainbow flags online.
On Thanksgiving Day, while we were still waiting for our flags to arrive, an investigative reporter from Channel 7 wandered by. He had spent two days attempting to learn where the future vice president was residing and finally hit pay dirt at our local diner. The reporter’s interview with Joanna aired during Thanksgiving dinner in the middle of the Redskins-Cowboys game (a perfect storm for lousy ratings). But we had mentioned that if the reporter came back in a few days, he might see something interesting.
Sure enough, the following week another Channel 7 reporter showed up and observed seven rainbow flags already hanging on our block. His on-air story set off a firestorm of attention. Within a matter of days, Joanna and several of our neighbors had been interviewed by NBC Out, Channel 9, The Post, Reuters, Channel 4, WTOP, CHNI, the Daily Caller and Stern, a German magazine. A video journalist for CNN posted an interview with Joanna, complete with background music and the Tennyson Street rainbow flags waving in the wind. It went viral on Facebook, receiving more than 2.2 million views. An interview on WAMU’s “Kojo Nnamdi Show” soon followed. And even our children were impressed when George Takei of “Star Trek” fame linked to a story about our rainbow flags on his Facebook page.
Our rainbow statement has served as a virtual group hug for many who are disillusioned by the election. Passersby stop in front of our house to say thank you. Complete strangers have sent letters and mailed us rainbow flags. Many others have sent emails expressing their gratitude.
Patty wrote: “You have indeed inspired us to put our values on display, quietly and strongly.” Aura and Lisa wrote: “At a time that feels incredibly scary and uncertain for so many folks — including this ‘two mom’ family — it has been an amazing comfort to see our neighborhood bloom with rainbows.” Lynn said: “I wanted to send a very heartfelt thank you and let you know that your support means more than you’ll ever know.” Robert from Ontario, Canada, wrote to say that our statement “is further proof that America has always been great.” And from Bess: “Walking through the neighborhood is one of the most heartwarming, spirits-raising, blood pressure-lowering local activities there is. So, thank you — for both the political activism and the mental health benefits you didn’t even realize you were providing!”
At the same time, we have not received a single expression of opposition, negativity or hate (aside from anonymous online comments and phone calls to “The Kojo Nnamdi Show”).
The most moving message we received came in the form of an “open letter” posted online by Deb, a self-described middle-aged lesbian mother from California: “I have known a lifetime of ugly moments where I questioned whether I was worthy,” she wrote. “You, Joanna, and these other random strangers who are hanging flags from your beautiful homes, you are all telling me, yes, I am worthy. This profound gesture of kindness is resonating the world around. It is resonating here with me. It is undoing all the hatefulness and sadness I have known; it’s un-doing the times I felt I didn’t belong. I cannot begin to tell you how grateful I am. Your beautiful, kind, brave act moved me to tears and it will stay with me, always.”
Deb planned to stay with us for the Women’s March on Washington.
A couple of weeks ago, we drove around our neighborhood and counted 289 rainbow flags flying proudly from our neighbors’ homes.
Thank you, Mike Pence.