by: Max Royle ~ City of St. Augustine Beach
One of the “perks” of working for a local government, especially a small one, is that challenges occur with some regularity, requiring your humble public servants to be nimble of foot and thought. One recent challenge concerned a flag.
For many years, June has been Gay Pride Month in the United States and other countries. The month commemorates when the gay rights movement began in 1969, following a police raid on a gay bar, the Stonewall Inn, in New York City, on June 28th of that year.
So, you may ask, what does that have to do with our seaside burg? Only this: At their June 17th meeting, the City Commission approved a proclamation proposed by the Women’s March Alliance of North Florida to declare June 2019 as Gay Pride Month in the city. This was the first time in the city’s history that a Pride Month proclamation had been proposed. One of its provisions was that the city would fly a rainbow pride flag. An Alliance member gave me the flag.
A point needs to be clarified: The proclamation isn’t an issue. While some citizens may consider the Commission approving a Pride Month proclamation as an endorsement of a lifestyle the citizens object to, many cities in our country each June adopt such proclamations, which basically are declarations that the cities support equal rights for all citizens regardless of their sexual orientation.
The flag, however, is another matter, though I don’t mean the gay pride flag by itself is a problem; the problem is a political agency like a city commission making decisions about the flying of non-government flags on government property.
Why is that a problem? Because if the commission allows one non-government group’s flag to be flown at city hall, other groups may want their flag flown. What then is the Commission to do? If it approves one flag and not another, the group being denied could claim discrimination. Do you see the potential lawsuit minefield here?
At the City Commission’s September 10th meeting, I suggested three possible policies that might provide some protection from the legal minefields: 1. that only government flags can be flown on City property; 2. that a non-government flag can be flown if a Commissioner requests it, the Commission approves that request by proclamation and the flag is flown for a limited time; and 3. that a non-government flag can be flown if a non-government organization requests it, the Commission approves the request by proclamation, and the flag is flown for a limited time.
The outcome of the discussion at the meeting was this: The Commission agreed not to allow non-governmental flags to be flown unless an organization makes the request to an individual Commissioner, who then presents the request to the full Commission, which then decides whether to approve a proclamation. If there is approval, then the flag can be flown for a limited time. The City Attorney will prepare a policy for review at the Commission’s October 7th meeting.