BILOXI, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi lawmaker on Friday called on veterans leaders to remove a rainbow flag flying at the entrance to the Biloxi VA Medical Center.
On Friday, U.S. Rep. Mike Ezell sent a letter about the flag to Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough and Dr. Stephanie Repasky, who serves as interim director of the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System, WLOX-TV reported.
The flag was added to a display of American flags on Thursday to mark LGBTQ+ Pride month.
“While I believe everyone should be treated with respect, I take serious issue with any flag flying at a VA facility that promotes social policy positions or political statements,” Ezell said in the letter.
Ezell said only government and military flags, such as POW/MIA and flags of the U.S. Armed Forces, should be flown or displayed alongside the American flag on VA property.
“For these reasons, I am writing to request that this flag, and any other flags promoting social policy positions or political statements, be removed,” he said.
Last year, McDonough authorized all VA-owned facilities to fly the rainbow flag for up to 30 days each June to send LGBTQ+ veterans the message that the VA “is creating a safe and inclusive environment” for them. A spokesperson for the Biloxi VA told the television station that McDonough’s memo left the final decision to individual facilities, but Biloxi was not alone in choosing to display the flag.
The spokesperson said it’s simply a symbol of inclusion and all veterans should know, “If you wore the uniform, the VA is here for you.”
According to the VA, an estimated one million veterans identify as LGBTQ+. And while those veterans experience mental illness and suicidal thoughts at far higher rates than those outside their community, they are significantly less likely to seek routine care, largely because of fears about discrimination.