Metro Weekly

Utah city removes Pride flag banners following outcry

Heber City residents complained that the Pride flag banners were "disturbing" and too "political"

utah, pride, banners
Pride banners in Heber City – Photo: Mama Dragons, via Facebook.

A city in Utah has passed an ordinance to prohibit Pride flag banners being flown, following outcry from the surrounding community on the grounds that the rainbow flag is too “political.”

Last year, Heber City flew rainbow flag banners from street lights during Pride month. But residents began showing up at City Council meetings, complaining about the flags and calling them “disturbing” and “political.”

One Wasatch County Council member, speaking as a private citizen, even mused that he didn’t think rainbow flags did any harm, but worried what the Council would do if people wanted to fly Nazi or Confederate flags.

Despite those objections, the Pride flags flew again this summer, but the number of complaints piled up once more, with people putting pressure on the City Council to pass an ordinance restricting the types of banners that can be hung from street posts. 

Under the new ordinance, any banners flown must be approved by the city manager, with appeals sent to the City Council for review. Only Heber City, Wasatch County, and the Heber Valley Chamber of Commerce will be allowed to sponsor events or messages for the banners, and all events must be nonprofit and nonpolitical, reports The Salt Lake Tribune.

A number of residents and organizations objected to the change, showing up to a meeting last month to ask the City Council to reconsider the ordinance. Among those groups are the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah and the Utah Pride Center. 

But last Tuesday, the City Council unanimously voted to adopt the change, and only one person — Ben Belnap, the father of a gay son — came to the meeting to express opposition to the revised ordinance.

“I understand many people are uncomfortable seeing [pride] banners,” Belnap said. “That said, I have a gay son and…I’ve seen the discomfort my son experiences every day, the slurs hurled at him every day. He’s called a ‘f*g’ in the halls.”

He asked whether the temporary discomfort of residents who object to seeing Pride flags is worth the well-being of LGBTQ community members who may “feel ashamed and worthless for being who they are.”

“Would you truly want to trade your discomfort for theirs,” Belnap asked.

But while some residents say it’s unfortunate that LGBTQ students may be bullied, they still consider the Pride banners inappropriate, or an endorsement of a certain political view.

City Attorney Mark Smedley says nothing in the ordinance specifically bans Pride flags, and that if the city wanted to support the LGBTQ community as “government speech,” then “they could come out and do that.”

The ACLU of Utah criticized the ordinance as a further restriction on freedom of expression.

“Whether or not this action complied with the letter of the law, the spirit of our Constitution calls for more speech, not less,” John Mejia, the organization’s legal director, said in a statement.

Heber City Mayor Kelleen Potter, who is also the mother of a gay son, told the Tribune she was disappointed that the ordinance passed, as well as the barrage of negative comments — and even some death threats — that she and the City Council members received. 

“I thought it was a beautiful opportunity to express acceptance and a welcoming tone,” Potter said. “We’re a small city. Historically people have contacted me and told me the hard things they’ve gone through and how they felt excluded.”

But, she said, “There were people on the council who I thought would go to bat to keep them and didn’t. It became too much pressure.”

She said she doubted that the city would sponsor Pride events in the future, but pledged to continue trying to support LGBTQ community members in other ways.

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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