Controversy Over Pride Flag Display at VA Hospitals in Arkansas

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Controversy Over Pride Flag Display at VA Hospitals in Arkansas

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The display of the pride flag at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals has sparked controversy among veterans, with opinions varying widely at the John L. McClellan Memorial Veterans’ Hospital in central Arkansas.

A Divisive Display

The pride flag, flown as part of a department policy, has received mixed reactions. Some veterans appreciate its presence, while others, including U.S. House Rep. Bruce Westerman, see it as a political statement. Westerman’s office has been inundated with complaints from veterans upset by what they perceive as a “political message.”

In response, Westerman introduced House Resolution 8580, which proposes withholding funding from VA hospitals that display the pride flag. He emphasized the need for VA facilities to remain apolitical, stating, “When my veterans get upset, I get upset. It [the VA] should always be apolitical. It’s not a place to voice your political moves.”

Legislative Battle

The resolution, named the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2025, has already proven contentious, passing the House with a narrow margin of 209 votes to 197. It still needs Senate approval and President Joe Biden’s signature to become law.

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Veterans’ Perspectives

Veterans Morgan Erhy-Taylor and Steven Horton hold differing views on the pride flag’s presence. Both believe flags are meant to unite people, but they disagree on the pride flag’s appropriateness in a VA setting.

“These people are on the front lines, in planes, and on ships defending freedom. Why not honor that?” Erhy-Taylor remarked.

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“As a veteran, I sort of take it to heart that that’s not the right thing to do,” Horton countered.

Erhy-Taylor, who transitioned to female after a decade of service in the Army, shared that her toughest battle was accepting her identity. She wishes others wouldn’t have to struggle for acceptance, saying, “We contribute to this community. We’re no threat to anyone, and we’re just tired of being othered and turned into some kind of bogeyman.”

Horton, who served in the Navy until injuries ended his career, believes the pride flag diminishes the symbolism of the American flag. “Flying the other flags and stuff, it’s just not right, you’re taking away from the American flag,” he said.

Official Response from Veterans Affairs

Terrence Hayes, VA’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, defended the policy, stating that the pride flag honors the service and sacrifice of LGBTQ+ veterans. He emphasized that the American and POW flags remain in their rightful places, with the pride flag flown only during Pride Month.

“Throughout Pride Month, we recognize the contributions of the more than one million LGBTQ+ Veterans in this Nation, and their families, caregivers, and survivors. It is our mission at VA to provide these Veterans — and all Veterans — with the world-class care and benefits they deserve in a safe, caring, and welcoming environment,” Hayes said.

Discover : LGBTQ Pride Flags and What They Mean

Broader Implications of H.R. 8580

House Resolution 8580 contains over 400 sections. In addition to addressing flags, Section 256 aims to prevent VA funds from supporting gender-affirming care, while Section 416 seeks to protect those who believe marriage is between a man and a woman from discrimination.

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Erhy-Taylor criticized the bill, arguing that it favors one group while attempting to erase another. “We just want to be understood and accepted. You don’t have to like it, but just accept that we’re real,” she said.

Westerman, however, defended the resolution, claiming it ensures no group is discriminated against. “It’s just saying you can’t discriminate against one group over another. It’s not singling any group out,” he explained.

He also argued that gender-affirming care should not be taxpayer-funded, while Erhy-Taylor maintained that her procedure saved her from severe depression.

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