Flying Colors

The Progress Pride Flag is Flying at City Hall This Week. Here’s What It Stands For.

"We’re not a political party. We are humans, and this is about a community coming together to show support," says Shannon Fortner, executive director and founder of the Fabulous Arts Foundation. 

By Bethany Ritz May 10, 2023

The Progress Pride flag at Sarasota's City Hall.

The Progress Pride flag at Sarasota's City Hall.

Image: Bethany Ritz

A Progress Pride flag is flying at city hall this week to kick off Sarasota Pride Month and the Pride | Be Fabulous Music and Arts Festival happening Friday, May 12, and Saturday, May 13.

Although the flag has been raised every year since 2020, this is the first year that required a formal request to be presented to the city council, due to the City of Sarasota's Resolution No. 22R-3114 regarding flag displays at City Hall. The council voted with unanimous approval to allow the Progress Pride flag to fly, in a much-desired show of support for LGBTQ+ residents and allies alike. 

The formal request was submitted by Shannon Fortner (they/them), executive director and founder of the Fabulous Arts Foundation, an organization that uses the arts as a catalyst for social change while amplifying LGBTQ+ people. Its motto is "community focused, community driven." The flag will stay aloft all week beneath the City of Sarasota flag.

"With people moving out of the state—in fear of the bills that have recently been passed and adjustments to bills that make what is already horrific even more so—having visibility is so important right now because so many queer and trans youth feel attacked and isolated and at a loss for words," Fortner says. "This is a nice moment. When I drove by, I sat there for a minute taking it in. It’s nice to feel action behind words."

The Progress Pride flag has evolved out of the traditional Pride flag because, Fortner explains, "Black and Brown folks made a statement saying that they wanted more support from the LGBTQ+ community. The new rendition of the Progress Pride flag incorporates [the colors] black and brown, and also trans colors." 

We've been using flags as symbols to recognize identity and presence, and to coalesce communities, for millennia. The first flag known to exist dates back to about 2400 BCE, with a depiction of a man and woman facing each other with a star in between. The Progress Pride flag continues in this tradition of presence and community, but it also affirms inclusion.

"We’re not a political party. We are humans, and this is about a community coming together to show support," Fortner says. 

Daniel Quasar, who designed the Progress Pride flag in 2018, identifies as a "queer non-binary celestial object having a human experience." Fortner personally identifies as a "nonbinary, queer, magical human" and points to how self-expression, language and access to language are important.

"If we want people to be their best selves, we need to remove the judgment. It binds us and holds us back from really truly expressing ourselves," Fortner says. "When we stop wanting to make judgments of others, we can be more free ourselves."

The Progress Pride flag, Fortner continues, "shows that we’re able to keep growing. So, when people are voicing the need for visibility and more support, we’re able to shift and be like, 'OK, yes.'"

Sarasota City Hall is in good company with others who have raised this flag. NASA did it for Pride Month in 2022; The National Park Service has a Progress Pride flag at Stonewall National Monument, the first one permanently raised on federal lands; and the Victoria and Albert Museum in the United Kingdom acquired a bespoke applique version of the Progress Pride flag, which it also has on display.

"I’m hopeful. I feel like we need to focus on how we can support one another instead of how we tear each other down," Fortner says. "That is when we start achieving things on a broader spectrum. It’s the dream we all hope we can achieve. I still hope that is there."

The Pride | Be Fabulous Music and Arts Festival begins with a drag culture exhibition with a timeline on display and a talk and performance by Lindsay Carlton on Friday, May 12, at 5:30 p.m. in the Community Gallery at The Ringling. The festival begins at 3 p.m. on Saturday, May 13, at Fogartyville with an after-party beginning at 10 p.m.