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An audible gasp of shock and surprise could be heard through the audience at Tuesday’s city commission meeting in Wilton Manors.

It happened when Vice Mayor Mike Bracchi announced that a proposed bill in Tallahassee would ban the flying of Pride flags on any government property, but that Confederate flags would be allowed.

The city is drafting a resolution opposing House Bill 1011 (HB 1011). The bill doesn’t specifically ban Pride flags, but issues a very limited list of flags that may be flown. Included in the original bill was the U.S. flag, Florida Flag, the POW-MIA flag.

In the state Senate, Sen. Jay Collins (R-Tampa) introduced Senate Bill 668 (SB 668) which calls for “a certain protocol ... with specified requirements.” Collins also filed an amendment to his own bill that expanded the list of flags that could be flown. Some were practical, like including beach warning flags. But it was the inclusion of the Confederate flags that sparked outrage.

The public condemnation was swift with Collins already withdrawing his amendment. But the two original bills are still making their way through the legislative process. Neither bill would allow the rainbow, or Pride, flags.

“Clearly our community, as are others, is under attack,” Commissioner Paul Rolli said. “I would like to make the resolution language stronger.”

His suggestions included giving priority to First Amendment rights and home rule arguments, and were adopted. “I think these are strong points to make at the outset.”

“We need to make sure that we’re heard,” Commissioner Chris Caputo told SFGN after the meeting. “Cities are supposed to have some ability to govern themselves. We’re going to send this to other cities and look for them to sign on – shows we’re taking leadership as a city.”

We’ll Die First

Brandon Wolf of Equality Florida quickly denounced the move to resurrect and give government imprimatur to the disgraced symbol of hate. “The amendment to exempt Confederate flags, the symbol of those who tried to tear the United States apart in defense of slavery, sends a clear message that right-wing politicians would sooner prop up racist relics of traitors past than allow LGBTQ Floridians and other communities to see themselves publicly celebrated in their communities by way of flags,” he said. 

Former Senate Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa) thought this battle had been won. She worked to remove the confederate flag from the state Senate’s seal in 2015 and told she thought this was finished.  

“The confederate flag is a relic of the past. It represents and is a symbol of the worst of this country’s racism and hate and evokes anger and fear and trauma in Black people for sure. Back then we had a different kind of Republican Party, people who respected where America was and where it ought to be. It is abhorrent that he would allow this symbol of slavery and hatred to be flown after all that has been done in America. It just appears now that there is a move afoot to take us back to slavery. But we’re not going. We’ll die first.” 

Moves to remove confederate flags and monuments have been going on for years, and gained steam in the last decade. States removed the confederate iconography from flags and statues to traitors were dramatically defaced and removed across many cities. 

These bills may find other opponents as well besides the LGBT community.  

Scott Herman, a veteran and a former president of the Dolphin Democrats, was irked that the initial bill did not include military flags either.

“Republicans are for freedom except if you are LGBTQ, or served in the military,” he said. “Then your military branch flag, Pride flag, Christian flag, or other flag is wrong. Also if you're from another country, or any other state then, your respective flags are also not allowed under this bill.”   

In addition to the confederate flag and beach warnings, the withdrawn amendment also included the flags of foreign nations, the flags of the U.S. Armed Forces and the Florida National Guard, city and county flags, college and university flags, the United Nations flag, and the Olympics flag.  

A senate staff review of SB 668 said the proposed law may limit free speech. Even though Collins’ amendment was withdrawn it could be re-inserted into the final bill if SB 668 and HB 1011 pass and go to a joint committee.

“This law is just a continuation of the right-wing assault on free expression in classrooms. The law appears to apply to university level classrooms, so it not only impacts the rights of children, but adults as well. It raises serious constitutional concerns about the first amendment rights of both students and teachers,” said Russell Cormican, a first amendment rights attorney in Fort Lauderdale. “By prohibiting the display of certain flags, the law not only allows lawmakers to prevent flags that honor certain groups, like the Pride flag, but also flags that tell the story of our state’s history, like the Spanish, French and British flags. Flags are an important way of conveying ideas and learning about history and therefore they should be afforded protection as a form of expression.”

Jason Parsley contributed to this report.