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Clayton faces complaints after Pride flag decision

Published: Sep. 13, 2021 at 12:38 PM EDT
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(Update - At Monday night’s meeting, the Clayton village board affirmed its policy of only flying the flags of nations on village-owned flagpoles. What follows is our story from Monday, written in advance of the board meeting.)

CLAYTON, New York (WWNY) - After the LGBTQ Pride flag was raised for the first time this summer on the village of Clayton’s official flag pole, village officials enacted a law that would stop it from happening in the future.

Village officials said, in the words of deputy mayor Nancy Hyde, that they did it because “We don’t want to show any favoritism or say no to another group.”

LGBTQ activists aren’t buying it.

The village board meets tonight, and is expected to address two letters of complaint about the decision.

After the rainbow-colored Pride flag was raised in a ceremony at Frink Park at the end of June, the village board passed an ordinance limiting the flags that can flown on village-owned flag poles to the American flag and those of other nations.

Village officials told the Watertown Times that the village’s flag policy was not in the line with U.S. Flag Code, which - they said - requires the U.S. flag to be the only flag on a given pole.

They also said they began reviewing their flag policy in May, well before the Pride celebration.

In a letter to village officials, lawyer and north country native John Byrne writes “the village government can choose to fly the Pride flag if it wishes. The decision to do so comes with no obligation to fly any other flag.”

Village officials have suggested flying the Pride flag opens the door to less savory groups and movements demanding their flag be flown as well.

But Byrne cites a U.S. Supreme Court decision which concluded “A government entity has the right to ‘speak for itself.’”

“There is an easy way for Clayton to move past this ugly moment,” Byrne writes.

“Raise the Pride flag at next summer’s River Pride pursuant to a resolution of the village leaders (or Mayoral proclamation) as so many prosperous and welcoming cities and towns have done nationwide.”

Brian McGrath, another lawyer and north country native, told 7 News “there is no slippery slope argument that if you allow the Pride flag to fly you’re gonna have to allow a Klan flag to fly, or a Confederate flag to fly. Not true - the municipality gets to decide.”

Alex Hazard, who was a key organizer of the River Pride event, writes that the village can adopt a set of standards to apply to any group wishing to fly a flag, including the flag being recognized by the White House and United Nations, that it follows the United States Flag Protocol, that it represents “the village constituency” and that it incurs no cost to the village.

“It may not have been your intent to discriminate but that is the actual result of your decision,” Hazard notes.

“By denying the Pride group the right to express their inclusion in this community at Frink Park, you took direct action to discriminate.”

Village mayor Norma Zimmer declined to comment Monday morning. She said the board will likely discuss the matter at tonight’s meeting. We also reached out to Deputy Mayor Nancy Hyde, who also declined to comment before tonight’s meeting.

The village law does not affect the rights of private businesses or homeowners; they can still fly the Pride flag.

Still, McGrath says, it’s important for government to be a part of it.

“Having grown up here and living here and as a member of the LGBTQ community, it’s important to see our government - on behalf of all of us - sending a message symbolically that you’re all welcome, that you’re all part of the community.

“You are free to be who you are.”

Read Byrne’s letter to the village below:

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