Memo Fachino and Lance Mier didn’t want to rustle any feathers. They just wanted to show off their pride this June by displaying a flag.
“We don't have hundreds of cars driving by every day,” Fachino, 35, told TODAY. “So we were not expecting to create any type of buzz or are making a specific issue come to light, no pun intended. We really want to keep everything positive in terms of how welcome we feel in the neighborhood.”
The couple, who have been together for eight years and married for five, love the community they call home in Racine, Wisconsin. However, last year, amid the numerous dissenting political and social opinions that emerged, their local homeowner association put forth a policy that no flags other than the American flag could be flown on properties.
“They wanted to nip it in the bud, not letting any situation get out of control with angst or anything like that between neighbors,” Mier, 36, explained.
The couple knew they wouldn’t be able to fly their pride flag due to the new rule, which was officially put in place in May. They still tried, however, and soon afterward they received a letter asking them to remove it. No homophobic intent — the HOA was just enforcing the rules put in place. (Fachino is actually on the board himself.)
But the couple still wanted to show off their pride. They found a loophole in the rules — yes, flags were banned, but nothing was noted about lights.
“It was the night before June 1, we put out these rainbow floodlights and went to dinner, came home and took a look at them in the darkness and thought it was pretty nice,” Mier said. “So we snapped a picture, and then posted on Facebook and posted on Reddit.”
Their Reddit post quickly went viral, amassing a huge amount of support from all over the globe.
Fachino, who is originally from Argentina, and Mier weren’t always the rainbow-wielding type of gay men. As they have gotten older they have learned to appreciate the importance of visibility and their own privilege, inspiring them to show up and stand proud for their community.
“When I first met Memo, I don't think he was so into pride, and myself for sure. When I was younger, I was out, but it's not like I was proud and talking about it,” Mier said. “But we recognize that we're privileged and lucky to be able to talk about it and be able to share it and I do truly feel pride now.”
“There's a lot of people who are unsafe, scared of being out, of being able to demonstrate that they are part of the community because they might be people of color or they might be in a environment that it's not accepting of their trans identity,” Fachino said. “They might not feel as welcome or comfortable but it's still important for them to find that representation out there so they know that it’s something that is achievable. If you don't see other people that look like you achieve something, it's really hard for you to understand that it’s also possible for you.”
The couple have felt this impact firsthand. A few years ago, when they were allowed to fly the rainbow pride flag, they found a note in their mailbox. Not from the HOA — the letter was from a neighbor.
“When we first moved in, we were hanging our pride flag and we ended up getting a handwritten letter from a neighbor who was in high school and wasn't feeling welcomed at home,” Mier said. “They lived in our neighborhood and they wrote us saying, ‘Hey, I just wanna let you know. I’m struggling with my gender identity, but just to see you out there with your flag out there really makes me feel accepted. I might not be getting it at home, but I know there are people out there who will support me when I move out of the house.'"
Mier said that letter has inspired them, either with flags or floodlights, to keep being visible and proud in whatever small or big way they can.
“We actually have a real-life example where it does make a difference.”
During LGBTQ Pride Month, TODAY is sharing the community’s history, pain, joy and what’s next for the movement. We will be publishing personal essays, stories, videos and specials throughout the entire month of June. For more, head here.