KENSINGTON — Pink, plastic lawn flamingos are regarded as a tacky decoration by some, but for one local couple, they have become a medium for public expression.
For several years, Michael Laythan and Mandy Golden have arranged large and small flamingos in their yard in exhibits designed to call public attention to social ills and to protest policies.
“When I first met Mandy in 1990, she was wearing flamingo earrings,” Laythan said. “She gave me one, and I hung it on the mirror in my car, and they’ve been sort of a theme for us ever since. Ten years ago, I was finishing up a year-long treatment for Hepatitis C, and Mandy asked friends of ours to buy a flamingo or two. When I woke up the first morning after the treatment was finally done, the yard was just full of flamingos. Since then, the ‘mingos have come out off and on. We find it’s a good way to make known our opinions about what’s happening in the world.”
Laythan and Golden now own approximately 200 large and small lawn flamingos, which they use for their exhibits. In the exhibits, the flamingos are posed carrying signs or in tableaux illustrating a particular issue.
“The ’mingos were sympathetic to Puerto Rico after the hurricane and Las Vegas after the shooting,” Laythan said. “They supported the Women’s March after Trump’s inauguration. The response we’ve gotten from neighbors has been overwhelmingly positive.”
Their lawn currently features two flamingo exhibits. In one, several small flamingos are enclosed in a fenced area while larger flamingos are outside looking in. This exhibit was designed to protest the Trump Administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the border.
The other exhibit features 14 small flamingos and three larger flamingos with their heads buried, a tribute to the 14 students and three teachers who were killed in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14. Each flamingo’s grave is marked with a tombstone of the cover of the April 2 issue of “Time” Magazine, which featured the cover story “Enough” about the March for our Lives in Washington, D.C., and nationwide on March 24. Laythan and Golden said they may design a future exhibit to commemorate the victims of the Annapolis “Capital Gazette” shooting on June 28.
“That shooting happened because of one guy who had a longstanding feud with the paper,” Laythan said. “But the rhetoric of the president and others, calling journalists the enemy of the people, may have, in a way, made the shooter feel like he had permission to do that.”
Laythan said that he participated in the first protest against the Vietnam War in 1971.
“I never thought I’d still be protesting this many years later,” Laythan said. “I’m so sympathetic whenever I see anyone carrying a sign saying, ‘I can’t believe we still have to do this.’”