The LGBTQ+ community won’t be having its pride flag raised on a city flag pole.
It seems like long ago.
But it was only just before the global coronavirus pandemic that something else was raging across our city. In January, after the Rye Free Reading Room scheduled a “drag queen story hour”, residents went berserk. The library indefinitely postponed the event and people on both sides showed up at Rye City Council’s open mic.
Fast forward to last Wednesday’s city council Item #9, “Resolution to declare June to be LGBTQ Pride month in the City of Rye”. The Mayor surfaced the agenda item, Councilwoman Souza made the motion, the motion was seconded by Councilwoman Pam Tarlow and a unanimous voice vote passed the resolution – all in two minutes and forty-seven seconds.
For the next 44:19 minutes this writer witnessed one of the more heated council debates in recent memory surrounding if the City of Rye should allow an LGBTQ+ pride flag to be raised on one of its flag poles.
Spoiler alert: the council effectively demurred, tabling the issue fifteen minutes after Councilman Richard Mecca dropped from the zoom meeting call, apparently unable to return.
The idea of raising an LGBTQ+ pride flag was brought to the mayor and city staff by Councilwoman Sara Goddard, who saw this was happening in places such as Bedford, NY; Union NJ; Greenfield, MA; Madison WI; Bristol, CT; Bergen County, NY; Yonkers, NY; and Westchester County, courtesy of Rye guy George Latimer.
The debate immediately turned to the issue of raising flags on public property. “This could be a pitfall for us, because what if someone comes up with a flag raising we don’t agree with,” said Councilman Mecca. At the same time, Mecca recalled the city passed a resolution back in 1981 or 82 to fly the POW flag on the city flagpoles.
A debate on city owned flag poles went on. “I’m not going to slap these people in the face,” said Councilwoman Pam Tarlow. Councilman Ben Stacks felt pressed with no time to prepare or debate but said “I think we should agree to this, and then set a policy”. Councilwoman Carolina Johnson worked to look for a middle ground.
It came down to concerns that there is no City of Rye policy on what flags are OK to raise on a city flagpole. Mayor Josh Cohn went from generally supportive to saying “I would say no to this and see if we can develop a policy. I don’t want to be in the flag adjudication business.”
Councilwoman Pam Tarlow also said “And now we are going to say you know what we still have no policy so we are just not allow anybody even though the door has already been opened with the POW flag. I think we open the door for something down the line if we don’t address the issue. I think we should have a policy and I think in my mind we should approve for all the reason’s Sara stated, for all the reasons we as people just voted before, I think we should approve this and then we should set out a policy in the future so that we can insure that we don’t deal with this again. But to not approve this when we have approved something before is in my mind as troubling as anything we could possibly do especially to this community after what they have been through in the last thirty years.”
Councilman Richard Mecca worried about opening the floodgates to many groups “So we have a march on Saturday Black Live Matter, I guess we’ll have a flag up before we get this resolution done. You want to go down this road, go ahead. I think I’ve said enough, thank you.”
Asked by MyRye.com if the flag raising opportunity will be re-visited by city council, Mayor Josh Cohn said “The City Council last Wednesday unanimously adopted a resolution recognizing June as LGBTQ Pride Month in Rye. This Thursday, we are going to present the resolution to Rye’s pRYEde group, as we would have if the last Council meeting had been in a public setting.”
He continued “The flag issue was tabled. The issue is not LGBTQ+ flag raising, it is flag raising generically, pure and simple, and what practice the City should adopt going forward, given that we may be entering a legal thicket. ”
Watch the council debate (run time 47:06):