Gay pride flag in sight as Darien lifts ban on city property


The national culture war is getting closer and weirder, this time in Darien, where the elected council is about to debate a plan that would ban all non-government flags from flying on the property of the city.

Under this measure, only the flags of the United States, the State of Connecticut and the City of Darien could be flown for display on or above city-owned buildings and property, such as the town hall and the beaches. This would exclude flags of other nations such as Ukraine, the POW-MIA flag honoring veterans, the Black Lives Matter flag, the Juneteenth flag, and the rainbow flag for LGBT pride.

Why the ban? It has been a mystery for the past few days, since he was on the agenda for Monday night’s meeting – drawing immediate criticism from Democrats who say it’s a Republican plot to block the Pride flag.

Their logic: Of all the non-government flags, only Pride colors honoring and welcoming lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people have flown in Darien for the past year or more, some people told me. It was certainly the most important, flying over the town hall and one of the beaches until June, the month of pride, in 2021 and again this year.

There were a few incidents of pushback against the flag; one was stolen last year and some signs for a Pride celebration disappeared this year.

“We all know it’s the Pride Flag,” Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, whose district includes part of Darien, told me. “The ruling majority in Darien…is embracing these ultra-conservative decisions we see in Washington.”

There’s another possible explanation: the selection board could be responding to a US Supreme Court ruling on May 2 of this year, in which a unanimous court hit the city of Boston for banning a group from the right to fly what he described as a Christian flag during a town hall ceremony in 2017.

The key question, the judges said in the Case of Shurtleff v. City of Boston: Boston had allowed some 50 groups to fly their flags above City Hall 284 times without any policies in place, so the city couldn’t suddenly ban a group’s colors. And no, the justices all agreed, a Christian flag above City Hall did not necessarily violate the constitutional separation of church and state as Boston had claimed.

So maybe the Darien Selects just feel the need to have a policy and in their wisdom the best option is to ban all outdoor flags. That’s what the Darien GOP suggested in a tweet exchange with Duff, who criticized the proposal Friday on the social media platform.

I turned to First Selectman Monica McNally for an answer. In two emails, the Republican elected in 2021 declined to tell me, saying only that the board “will consider this item at our meeting on Monday, August 22, where we expect a full discussion.”

GOP Leaders at Pride Celebration

Duff, who is the majority leader in the state Senate, had harsh words on twitter, and to me about a city that this year deliberated to spend $103 million on Great Island, halted road paving and blocked 16 Norwalk kindergartners from enrolling in local schools in under the Open Choice program, “and yet they’re stuck on this flag to satisfy their extremist base in town.

The selection board has three Republicans, led by McNally, and two Democrats. One such Democrat, Michael Burke, declined to comment on the proposal, but said of the Pride flag, “I support flag waving, yes, and other flags with a similar and appropriate purpose.”

It would be quite simple if it were Republican cultural conservatives battling Democrats for a symbol of liberalism. But McNally was there on June 12 for the Darien Pride Celebration which drew 600 people to the First Congregational Church. She wasn’t just there, she greeted everyone from the podium.

Also in attendance was McNally’s predecessor, Republican Jayme Stevenson, the GOP nominee for the 4th District seat in the U.S. House. “It was a completely bipartisan event,” Dan Guller, chairman of the Darien Pride committee, told me Friday night.

And McNally is the one who endorsed the pride flags flying above City Hall and Pear Tree Point Beach this year, after Stevenson gave the go-ahead last year.

“This is just the beginning”

Culture Wars Presents Troubled Politics in the Trump Era; we may never know exactly how the interdiction plan came about. We know the Republican Party is veering right, even in wealthy enclaves that were traditionally socially moderate, like Darien — by some measures, the wealthiest city in the wealthiest state in the wealthiest nation in the world.

Conservatives on the GOP City Committee have been known to throw their weight lately, challenging moderate Republicans in elected councils. Is that part of that? We do not know.

Either way, we can expect to see more issues like the Darien flag proposal in Connecticut cities at a time when a conservative Supreme Court returns social unrest to states and municipalities in prayer to the school, reproductive rights, affirmative action and other areas.

“No matter which side of the issue you’re on, there’s no denying that this is going to create a big shift in local decision-making,” said Joe DeLong, CEO of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities.

He wasn’t aware that other towns in Connecticut were debating flag politics, but he told me on Friday, “There’s going to be more and more contentious and upsetting discussions…It’s not only the beginning.”

Ending an inclusive tradition

It’s a rough start for Darien. A draft of the proposal says the goal is a policy that “follows the provisions of the United States and the State of Connecticut governing the display of flags” – but that’s misleading. The state regularly flies special non-government flags such as Juneteenth, POW/MIA, and the Pride Flag.

And there’s nothing in the Supreme Court ruling that even suggests cities should ban outdoor flags from their property altogether.

“In terms of acceptance and love and the lessons we want to teach the kids growing up in Darien, I can’t imagine why the adults in this community would forbid flying the gay pride flag,” he said. said Senator Will Haskell. , D-Westport, whose district includes part of Darien with this year’s redrawn maps.

He also talked about flags honoring veterans and foreign nations. “I’m optimistic that anyone proposing this policy will see the error in its ways, the disrespectful and non-inclusive signal it sends.”

Banning all flags other than nation, state, and city may seem neutral, and in some ways it is. But all this inclusive flag-raising has become a tradition, so to stop it is to take a stand – for better or for worse – in a war over the role of government in fostering a multicultural and welcoming society.

“I feel like I can see a pride flag flying from city hall and the beach telling our young gay men that their hometown leaders have their backs,” said Guller, chairman of the committee of the pride, “and I would hate to see that taken away.”

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