As It Happened: Ryman Auditorium staff confiscate Pride flag at Harry Styles gig

Audience members from last night’s Harry Styles performance are today questioning the sincerity of the Ryman Auditorium’s motto — All Are Welcome — in light of what appeared to have been a discriminatory incident at the iconic venue.

Kirk Cunningham, who was in attendance, reached out to O&AN regarding the issue.

“A concertgoer who was in their seat had security surround them and had them remove a rainbow flag they had wrapped around them,” he said. “They were supporting their rights, and the rights that Harry Styles has been supporting onstage, yet the Ryman's behavior demonstrates discrimination to this person and embarrassment for making a scene in the middle of a packed auditorium.”

Before the show concluded, the removal of the flag began making the rounds on social media. In an attempt to quell the situation, the official Ryman Auditorium Twitter account acknowledged the conversations online.

Fans familiar with the Ryman’s policies also defended the venue on social media, saying they are very strict about what they allow into the building. But far from settling the qualms of attendees like Cunningham, the tweet added to the questions many had, since flags aren’t explicitly mentioned in the notice and the audience member appeared to be simply wearing the flag as a blanket or jacket.

“The [Ryman Auditorium] tweet had an image of their banned items and flags are not on that list and the person wasn't holding up the flag to block anyone's view,” Cunningham said. “They were wrapped in the flag, sitting down. It appears the Ryman targeted this person because the flag they were carrying was a pride flag. I thought I would pass this information along as it made many feel uncomfortable in what otherwise should have been a fun concert experience.”

As word began to spread, other stories were shared on social media. Audience member @brittneyannwomack shared her story on Instagram:

Harry Styles himself from the stage acknowledged the earlier disturbance. In this YouTube video he can be heard saying, "I was told that this was removed somewhere," as he turned away and then presented the flag to the crowd, "and I'd like to bring it back.." The remainder of his statement is inaudible due to screams and cheers from the audience.

The Ryman Auditorium is owned and operated by Ryman Hospitality Properties, a publicly traded real estate investment trust. It is a signatory to the Tennessee Thrives pledge from 2016, a business-led coalition defined by its statement of non-discrimination that was developed in the wake of the state legislature's counseling discrimination law targeting LGBT Tennesseans which granted counselors and therapists the freedom to deny clients based on "sincerely held principles."

Despite that sign of support to the LGBT community, the company is not a member of the Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce and its employment non-discrimination policy (page 11, item D) does not include sexual orientation nor does it include gender identity.

In a statement provided to O&AN, the company acknowledged the need to further clarify its list of prohibited items and emphasized its intention to "embrace all members of our community."

At the Ryman, we are committed to providing all of our guests with the best concert experience possible. We have a long-standing history of being a welcoming place that celebrates diversity both on stage and off. Our policy prohibiting large items that could potentially obstruct someone's view is in place due to the small and intimate nature of our venue. We are reviewing our policy internally to further clarify the prohibited items list so our guests have a better idea of what to expect in the future. The Ryman's motto is "All Are Welcome," and it is our intent to embrace all members of our community.

As for Kirk Cunningham, one of the concertgoers who witnessed the confiscation of the flag last night, this is an opportunity for the venue to refine its methods when enforcing a policy. “My hope for the Ryman is that this ordeal can be a teachable moment," he said, "and hopefully in the future, should a situation like this occur, it can be handled with a little more dignity and respect than it was last night."

"A concert should be a place where everyone should be able to come together and have a nice evening and unfortunately due to the Ryman's actions last night, that wasn't the case for this particular show.”

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