The US Embassy in Seoul, South Korea removed a large rainbow flag and a Black Lives Matter banner from the outside of its building after a complaint from the State Department.
Both were removed from the building on Monday, June 16, following a request from the offices of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, CNN reports.
The Pride flag had been on display since June 1, to celebrate LGBTQ Pride month, with the embassy writing on Facebook that it was “displaying a rainbow banner on our Chancery in support of fundamental freedoms and human rights for all.”
On June 13, the embassy added a Black Lives Matter banner underneath the Pride flag, saying it “stands in solidarity with fellow Americans grieving and peacefully protesting to demand positive change.”
“Our #BlackLivesMatter banner shows our support for the fight against racial injustice and police brutality as we strive to be a more inclusive & just society,” the embassy posted on Facebook.
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The banner was displayed with the consent of U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris, who tweeted, “I believe in what President JFK said on June 10, 1963, at American University: ‘If we cannot now end our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.’ USA is a free & diverse nation…from that diversity we gain our strength.”
But a few days later, both the rainbow flag and Black Lives Matter banner were removed, with CNN reporting that the request came from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s office.
Ambassador Harris was told to remove the Black Lives Matter banner because it is a nonprofit, which contradicts the federal government’s stance that it does not encourage donations to specific organizations, according to the request from Pompeo’s office.
However, Pompeo did not formally request the removal of the rainbow flag, according to CNN, and while the embassy confirmed that it was taken down along with the Black Lives Matter banner, it did not state why.
In a statement, an embassy spokesperson said Ambassador Harris wanted to “highlight the enduring American values of racial equality, freedom of speech, and the right to peacefully protest.”
“However, the Ambassador’s intent was not to support or encourage donations to any specific organization. To avoid the misperception that American taxpayer dollars were spent to benefit such organizations, he directed that the banner be removed,” the statement said. “This in no way lessens the principles and ideals expressed by raising the banner, and the Embassy will look for other ways to convey fundamental American values in these times of difficulty at home.”
The rainbow Pride flag was removed from the outside of the building just hours before a landmark LGBTQ rights ruling in the U.S., when the Supreme Court confirmed on Monday that the Civil Rights Act protects LGBTQ workers against employment discrimination.
Last year, Pompeo and the wider Trump administration drew criticism from LGBTQ organizations after banning embassies from flying rainbow Pride flags on embassy flag poles.
Embassies are still allowed to display rainbow flags or banners elsewhere on embassy properties, but the decision stood in contrast to the Obama administration where embassies had blanket permission to fly the Pride flag during June.
Vice President Mike Pence later called the move to ban the flying of Pride flags the “right decision.”
NBC News asked Pence what he would say to LGBTQ people, given a few days before the flag ban Donald Trump had tweeted in support of LGBTQ Pride Month.
“As the president said on the night we were elected, we’re proud to be able to serve every American,” Pence responded, adding, “We both feel that way very passionately, but when it comes to the American flagpole, and American embassies, and capitals around the world, one American flag flies.”
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