On Wednesday, rainbow-colored flags were hoisted outside homes, businesses and churches for the start of Pride Month to celebrate the LGBTQ community in the suburbs and beyond.
The flag was also hoisted above some government-owned properties, including community halls, parks and libraries – some being hoisted there for the first time.
This includes the flagpole outside the Arlington Heights Memorial Library, where the most recent flag-flying controversy in the suburbs unfolded in recent months.
The library board debate coincided with a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruling on May 2 that found the city of Boston erred in denying an activist’s request to float a Christian flag in front of the town hall.
The court ruling gave pause to some library administrators who feared a lawsuit from any group that seeks to fly its flag at the library but is refused. The board, however, legally upheld the library’s new flag rules last week — specifically citing Boston’s decision in its written policy — which led to the flag being raised at the Dunton Avenue mast on Wednesday morning.
“I think a lot of the flag waving issue has not only been controversial in many places, but with the recent Supreme Court decision, I think people are trying to better understand their flag policies. flag flying,” said Austin Mejdrich, founder of the Northwest Suburban Pride Action Fund, a political action committee that lobbied elected councils across the region to raise the flags on government flagpoles. “So a lot of places aren’t necessarily guessing, but taking a second look.”
The Arlington Heights Library policy – inspired by that adopted by the Glenview Library Board – states that flags flown on library poles serve as a “government forum for the expression of the mission, vision , values or sentiments of the library”, and as such must be approved by the trustees.
Roger Ritzman, a Wheaton-based attorney who represents the Arlington Heights Library and other local governments, said local councils have “broad discretion” in determining what is posted on government flagpoles.
But in Boston, the city’s flagpole had become a public forum, “where it’s basically a, come on everyone,” Ritzman said.
Judge Stephen Breyer, writing the majority opinion, wrote that Boston violated a conservative activist’s free speech rights when he refused his flag, after approving hundreds of requests from other groups to fly their flags in the past.
Local governments have taken various approaches to where to fly pride flags, if at all. Many instead choose to acknowledge the LGBTQ community with written proclamations.
Arlington Heights and Glenview library pride flags were raised after village councils in both towns rejected calls for flags in their community halls. Glenview Library raised the flag for the first time last year.
In Des Plaines, the city council last year voted 5-2 to raise the pride flag in front of city hall, adding the rainbow flag to 11 others already allowed there. The new policy, introduced by Mayor Andrew Goczkowski two weeks after he was sworn in, came five years after the flag became a local political lightning rod when it flew into the city’s library building following a a deadly shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. .
Then-mayor Matthew Bogusz authorized library board chairman Greg Sarlo to hoist the flag, but the board quickly enacted rules about which flags could be flown and left the flag Pride off the list.
Buffalo Grove officials agreed last year to display the flag on the Rotary Village Green – a public park – but not at City Hall. Village lawyers cited legal and constitutional issues with the latter location, believing it could become a public forum for other groups.
The Pride Flag flew above the Illinois State Capitol for the first time in 2019. It first flew last year at Daley Plaza, as part of a directed effort by Cook County Commissioner Kevin Morrison of Mount Prospect, the first openly LGBTQ person elected to County Council.
Mejdrich, who was with Morrison and other supporters at the Arlington Heights library when the council agreed to fly the Pride flag, said his approach to advocacy in each city was to first assess the landscape local politician, to see if they had the votes and if not, find another way for the LGBTQ community to be publicly recognized – most often, through a written proclamation.
“For large swaths of the LGBTQ community and our allies, family and friends who support us, having the Pride Flag is such a powerful symbol that helps us reflect on where we came from and all the fights we’ve had to make it happen, and to have some hope and optimism for the future,” said Mejdrich, whose day job is district manager for Democratic state Rep. Mark Walker of Arlington Heights.
“Having something like a village council or a state or anywhere flying that flag – they embrace us, and for so long it hasn’t.”