Divisive isn’t a word used very often during Wilton Manors’ Commission meetings. But it got plenty of use during a discussion on the permanent raising of the LGBT Pride Flag on city property.
“I don’t want to see our city get divided,” said resident Ruthanne Stadnik.
The debate began on Oct. 13 when resident Tim Evans suggested the Pride Flag be raised permanently on city property. Ultimately, Evans would like to see it placed in a city park.
He will most likely get his wish as commissioners unanimously voted Tuesday to instruct city staff members to find a city property to raise the Pride Flag. The commission will have final approval at a future meeting, possibly Nov. 10.
Evans and other supporters cited the contribution of the LGBT community in revitalizing and reinvigorating the city. “It certainly doesn’t hurt the property values,” Evans said. Jeff Sterling, owner of Sterling Accounting, said the LGBT community has had a significant impact on the city’s economy.
Those against praised the contributions of the LGBT community but said raising the Pride Flag would be offensive to many residents and elevate the LGBT community above the rest of the city.
“Our straight residents increasingly perceive a bias on the part of our gaycentric city,” said resident Paul Kuta. “If you want to represent a special interest group, run for Congress,” said resident Ben Little.
Commissioner Julie Carson agreed. “I was elected to represent and include everyone.” She said the flag would make some residents feel excluded and apart from the community. Carson said she voted to approve the flag to move the conversation forward to a final vote.
Commissioner Justin Flippen responded that the raising of the Pride Flag does not disrespect straight residents. “No one would argue that a Martin Luther King Memorial is anti-white.” While Commissioner Tom Green added, “It just supports who we are as a community.”
Mayor Resnick argued that, despite the progress made in the country and the city when it comes to acceptance of the LGBT community, there’s still more to be made. Raising the Pride Flag, he said, is a symbol that’s still needed. Even in Wilton Manors. He cited a resident who recently came out as gay and was not accepted by family members. “That’s right here in Wilton Manors. He also cited his own personal struggles with acceptance. “Eric and I have family members who will not talk to us because we’re gay.”
Resident Michael Rajner suggested a possible redesign of the city’s flag to include the Pride Flag but that more time needs to be spent talking to the business owners and residents about if and where the Pride Flag should be on permanent display.
“That didn’t come by flying a flag,” said Vice Mayor Scott Newton about the city’s diverse and accepting environment. But Newton, who also argued the Pride Flag would elevate one group over another, ended up agreeing with the idea of putting it in a park.
Resident Victoria Garcia said permanent display of the gay flag could lead to a slippery slope of other flags being flown on city property. “Where would you stop?”