It's been a debate I have been following for some time now, but it became official last night – the possibility of permanently flying a Pride / Rainbow / Gay Flag at Wilton Manors City Hall or other municipal building or property. Is this an issue for debate? Oh yes indeed. Even in one of the top three LGBT populated communities per capita in the nation, it is an issue.
Last night, I attended a Regular City Commission Meeting here in Wilton Manors, Florida in the Commission Chambers. There were about 70 people in attendance. As soon as I sat down in the front row, I was greeted by Commissioner Justin S. Flippen with a firm hand shake and smile. I must have been either smiling myself or looked like a fish out of water, but no matter, it was a nice way to start off the meeting.
The rest of this blog is my attempt to catch the Pride Flag discussion in its entirety. I did not use direct quotes nor the real names of the public speakers, but tried to capture as much of what was said as I could.
As the meeting moved on, we came onto item 7. COMMENT FROM THE PUBLIC where anyone could speak about any topic for a maximum of 3 minutes. Here are the speakers that used their time to convey their thoughts on the Pride Flag.
The 1st speaker on the topic of placement of the Pride Flag directed his comments toward the crowd but as well to what he called “the gaycentric city commission.” He believed that the American Flag represented inclusion and everyone in the community. He stated there was no need to fly the gay “banner as it is not a real flag” since there is enough information on the internet for people to find out where the gay hotels and inns are located.
The 2nd public stated he would not mind the Pride Flag on city property, but not beside the American Flag. It would be for the good of the city to fly the flag, it shows national history, but all would need to be approved by the commission board. Maybe even a specific location to fly by itself would be the best. Flying the flag would show pride in the community as well as the residents that live there. Yes, it would be trendsetting just like the taking down of the confederate flag at Old Miss. Flying the flag would not hurt anybody. Wilton Manors is a proud and wonderful community with 10% property value increase in the last year, the highest increase in Florida. We should come together for the sake of the community. The gay community and the businesses have allowed Wilton Manors to prosper, widen roads, improve police force and become the #1 vacation destination in the country.
3rd speaker was representing a local business and was there to show his and the business’s support for a Pride Flag being flown year round. It was not signaling one group over another. There is and would be economic benefit. The Drive drives people in to the community, to the city. We know what it is like when money leaves. Property values go down. The flag would recognize contributions that the LGBT community has given to this community.
The 4th speaker was a Pastor from a local Catholic community. He knows about symbolism. The Pride Flag represents a unity. It does as well represent gay pride. A state flag does not discriminate, a P.O.W. flag does not discriminate. A Pride Flag would not discriminate. The Pride Flag has had a significant impact on the community’s history and future.
The 5th speaker on the topic was a 50 year old resident. Why acknowledge one specific group. Where do you stop if this happens? How many flags will you fly to identify specific groups. She was thrilled that the city has grown, but to single the gay community out as better than a lot of us … It feels that what this would be doing.
A 40 year resident spoke next and didn’t want this issue to be divisive. She didn’t want it to be a problem. She has been an ally of the gay community since the beginning, but does not wish the town to be divided over this issue.
Another public speaker added that Wilton Manors is very gay friendly, very nondiscriminatory, in practice and in documentation, laws, etc. We can turn this into a UN Plaza. We should not institutionalize special interest groups. Do you think a gay flag will increase tourism for Wilton Manors? Maybe we should address the fact that many businesses in town have their businesses listed as being in Fort Lauderdale and not Wilton Manors.
The next public speaker mentioned that it would have been good to have the discussion after the actual resolution had been officially explained. He supported a flag in the business district. He helped put rainbow flags up and down the street for pride. Some of those flags were bought local and some not. We need to look at all diversity, but will we soon fly a Caribbean flag soon? Should we look at redesigning the City’s flag and have it a competition and maybe incorporate the rainbow flag within that? We should look at more public involvement and waive fees when a public solutions is found.
After closing the COMMENTS FROM THE PUBLIC, the meeting continued and finally came back to the Pride Flag issue. Commissioner Flippen was able to speak on item 13a. Discussion of permanent placement of the Pride Flag.
Paraphrasing he stated:
There is an opportunity to make history. History of recognizing people and organizations. It is a matter of policy. There has been an undeniable impact with better homes, better economic core, the presence of the Stonewall Museum, Pride Center, Sunserve, and Salud Latino. Wilton Manors was the first municipality in Broward County to raise the Pride Flag for LGBT Pride. There should be an acknowledgement of a permanent Pride Flag monument. He then listed off many community objectives the creation of such a monument would align with. He reiterated that it did not have to be at City Hall which many people have focused upon. It can be elsewhere. Discussion on this topic is good. He personally had received an outpouring of support from many, even the Wilton manors development Alliance. A permanent monument is in alignment with the forward direction of the community. It will add historical interest for our visitors, show that we are safe and welcoming, and show our values. He did somewhat stress that the flag should be along the Wilton Drive corridor.
Commissioner Julie Carson stated that many people took the time to communicate their concerns. She mentioned her Judaism and that doing good deeds is crucial to her faith and making the world a better place. The city practices nondiscrimination in its employment. Our community incorporates everyone. There is no doubt that the city supports the LGBT population of the community. The last statistic she heard was 18% of Wilton Manors was LGBT, so she rounded to 20%. 80% is not. The committee represents all citizens, not just 20%. She firmly believes there would be an element of exclusion if this occurred and it would remove people from feeling a part of the community. There is no reason to exclude anyone. She agreed conceptually with the flag, definitely during pride months. Her biggest concern was to not to exclude the 80% that may not want this. Our business community and residents can do this as long as it was appropriate with code. The city does not have a place in doing this at this time.
Commissioner Tom Green – It is an important discussion. He is concerned with all divisive reactions. He remembers working for 2 years to get the banners along Wilton Drive for Pride month. He hopes that no one would question Wilton Manors’ inclusiveness of the LGBT community due to any resolution. Green said he was not sure if it should be at City Hall and should look into other possible locations. The city should inventory where a flag could go on city property, park, rite of way, etc. he would be happier if it was a public / private partnership, maybe cosponsors. Maybe we should look at military flag fying at the same time and include American Veterans for Equal Rights (AVER). Green was all in favor of displaying the Pride Flag for Pride months as well as other months like this month since October is Pride history month. Should we consider a pride flag placement with the redesign of the parking lot at city hall? He was not comfortable making a final decision since this is the first night of the discussion. He needed more input than just emails. Green also mentioned that the city has never even displayed the city flag at city hall, except for in chambers. Maybe we should talk about that.
Vice Mayor D. Scott Newton – When he first ran, he said if you are for special rights, I am not your man. If you are for equal rights, I am your man. Be respectful and love the city that you are in is what he believes in. If you want change, change it. He stated he was the only straight person on the committee (not sure if he meant straight man or all members). Call it a gay flag or not. Rainbow or Pride , whatever. Most of the straight people he talked to stated we are all together, we don’t need the flag here. The flag didn’t bring people here. Flag or no flag, we will be a tourist destination. If you are proud to be a gay business, fly the flag. He is proud to be straight. There shouldn’t be a gay flag at government building. Fly it at a park. Definitely show appreciation. All of us have done something to make Wilton Manors what it is today. He did not say that flying the gay flag would show that the gay community is better than others, but that is what it will mean to others.
Commissioner Justin S. Flippen restated that the motion was to discuss the issue and placement on city land and it doesn’t have to be city hall. We’ve named parks, roads, etc. after influential people and groups. He would like to see the placement primarily along the Wilton Manors corridor. Any property, private or public would be fine, too.
Mayor Gary Resnick – What we have done so well in our community is come together and this issue is divisive. He started with a joke. We live in a bubble. Some have no idea what the rainbow flag symbolizes. Even people in Wilton Manors. Some do not know what it means to be inclusive and not discriminatory. He worked with a woman in Plantation. He pointed out to her what the rainbow flag symbolized and who it represented. She said, do you pay taxes to it? … A flag has become more than a symbol to whom you pay taxes to. We are not all inclusive. We should fly it here on a permanent basis. It may piss off some people, but we need to show inclusion. Resnick mentioned he has faced discrimination. He remembers losing friends and jobs when coming out. His partner Eric experience the same fate. As long as discrimination exists, this would be a symbol to embrace. We (Wilton Manors) have been noticed as a leader. We have received the benefits from our inclusion. We deal with other cities all the time. Other cities’ government members why do they keep hearing that Wilton Manors is a great city? Because we are welcoming and practice inclusion. It is the inclusiveness that has made us so great. You cannot take the responsibility of being a leader lightly. Resnick felt it would be more appropriate in a park. Bring people to a park and have the pride flag permanently in a park. Public or private sponsorship would be welcoming.
Jusitn S. Flippen closed out the discussion with a thanks to all for the discussion as well as a mentioning that communities recognize Martin Luther King and Women’s History month, neither exclude against whites or men respectively, neither are anti-White or anti-Male.
The item was closed with all commission members agreeing that a permanent Pride flag would be an appropriate thing to do, but tabled the discussion of placement until the city staff did a survey of locations as to where a permanent flying of a Pride Flag could be.
WHAT DID THAT ALL MEAN?
it seems that the city commission has agreed that there should be a permanent Pride Flag somewhere in Wilton Manors with preference to it not being at City Hall, but instead in a park or somewhere along the Wilton Drive corridor. At the end of the discussion the crowd that remained seemed more than happy with the result with several saying "We got our flag!"
I would like to say this was a great experience and want to thank Wilton Manors for running a great meeting that was open to the public. I think I will go to more meetings in the future just to know what is going on in the meeting. Some of the other topics discussed were city betterment plans as well as altering criminal charges to a citation when someone is found with 20 grams or less of pot.