Several thousand people turned out for the Big Sky Pride parade Saturday in Helena on a weekend that Gov. Steve Bullock ordered the rainbow flag to fly on a Capitol flagpole that usually displays the Montana flag.

The two-day flag switch didn't sit well with some Montana Republicans who blasted Bullock Monday. Senate President Scott Sales, R-Bozeman, and House Speaker Greg Hertz, R-Polson, issued a statement calling it "an unmistakable act of disrespect to our state and the people and institutions we serve."

Hertz and Sales accused Bullock of using the rainbow flag display "for political gain" in his presidential election bid and berated him for failing "to leave his political activism on the campaign trail and off state property."

The GOP leaders made the rainbow flag display news. The story of their criticism was reported statewide and nationwide. If Bullock was aiming to garner votes from "well-financed, radical left wing ideologues" as he critics allege, then those same Republicans helped him to get that publicity.

A few other Republicans office holders publicly criticized the Capitol rainbow flag. On Tuesday, Sen. Mike Cuffe, R-Eureka, announced that he would request drafting of legislation on "protocol for flying the state flag over the Capitol building." In a news release from the Senate Republicans' spokesman, Cuffe was quoted criticizing Bullock for "misuse of power."

As far as leaving politics on the campaign trail, we recall that Sales, who is running for secretary of state, started the 2019 Legislature by proposing that Montana state government contribute millions of dollars in state funds to build President Donald Trump's wall on the Mexican border. There was no politics in what Sales proposed?

Was it a misuse of power for Republican and Democratic governors to allow the Montana flag to be replaced with the Irish flag on St. Patrick's Day? That switch has been a tradition for four decades.

Four years ago, rainbow flags generated pride and prejudice when flown at Fort Harrison Veterans Affairs campus as part of a nationwide tribute to LGBTQ veterans who have honorably served or are serving in the U.S. military. The Gazette heard from Montanans who applauded the VA for honoring LGBTQ vets, others objected to the rainbow flags on the Fort Harrison campus.

In a response to Hertz and Sales, on Tuesday Bullock wrote: "Contrary to your statement that the Pride flag represents a political movement, the flag actually represents civil rights and social and economic equality for Montanans of the LGBTQ+ community."

The rainbow critics claim they are objecting to the absence of the Montana flag, although their response makes it obvious that their primary objection is the presence of the Pride flag.

We can have our state flag and a rainbow flag, too. Place the Montana flag at the top of the flagpole, where it usually is, and fly the other flag below it. (The governor's office reports that U.S. law requires flags of foreign nations to be displayed on separate flag poles, so the Irish flag cannot fly under the Montana flag. There is no protocol for the Montana flag.) The U.S. flag at the Montana Capitol always flies above the POW/MIA flag since Bullock ordered that display six years ago. 

Fly the rainbow flag, Montana. Be proud of all our citizens — including LGBTQ Montanans.

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Opinion Editor

Opinion editor for The Billings Gazette.