A scheduled ceremony on Monday to raise the LGBTQ pride flag over city hall in Reading, Pennsylvania, was cancelled by the mayor, who said the flag goes against city policy and represents a political movement.
Mayor Wally Scott (D), who lost the Democratic primary in May, said he considers the flag a political symbol and therefore would run afoul of city ordinances. The flag-raising would have been a momentous occasion, marking the first time a pride flag was raised over city hall in Reading’s history.
Acting Managing Director Osmer Deming told the Reading Eagle, “The mayor’s position is that he does not support flags being up that support political movements and he views that as a political movement.”
The decision against raising the flag came at the last minute, Council President Jeffrey S. Waltman Sr. said, according to the Eagle. Waltham said his attempts to convince Scott to let the flag fly only for a few hours fell on deaf ears.
Local journalist Walter Perez reported that the mayor said he didn’t know about the ceremony until moments before it began, and that was why the event was cancelled at the eleventh hour. But, Perez added, “People who were organizing the ceremony say that can’t be because this whole thing had been in the works for weeks and city officials had already signed off on it.”
Referring to the mayor’s argument that he couldn’t support what he believed was “one specific cause,” Waltham said, “I didn’t even have time to debate that with him.” He added that Scott said he “supports the group” even though he refused to raise a flag representing LGBTQ people.
In the past, the Reading city hall has raised flags representing other countries. It currently flies a POW/MIA flag below the U.S. flag.
Scott’s decision was met with backlash from officials and organizations across the state. On Tuesday, Pennsylvania Lieutenant Gov. John Fetterman (D) called on the mayor to reconsider his decision. Mark Detterline, an admissions counselor at Albright College in Reading, blasted the mayor for his decision on Twitter, saying “that’s hatred.”
The LGBT Center of Greater Reading said that the decision was “blatant, unacceptable discrimination.”
On Monday, Ben Renkus, president of the Reading Pride Celebration and vice president of LGBT Center of Greater Reading, and other people who planned to attend the ceremony walked through the streets with the pride flag.
The group then marched to the corner of 9th and Washington streets where Mayor Scott is known to hang out. pic.twitter.com/scX5c7tVz1
— Jeremy Long (@jeremymlong) July 15, 2019
Renkus on Tuesday filed a complaint with the Reading human relations commission.
“We’ve been included in the ordinance for protection since 2009 and this is the first time we’ve ran into a quirk in the system. We still want a good working relationship with the city and the mayor’s office,” he said to the Reading Eagle. Renkus said the pride flag is no different from flying a country flag.
Scott resounded, “I have no idea why they are doing that.”
Reading’s case is just a microcosm of what appears to be a national problem. This year, the State Department denied embassies’ requests to fly the pride flag on the official embassy flagpole, a break from previous years. While some state capitols decided to fly the flag for the first time in their histories this year, the decision to do so came four years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality.
Although many businesses have embraced the LGBTQ pride flag, representation of the flag in government and in public schools has been slower. Opponents argue that the flag is controversial rather than a statement of support for a marginalized group that still doesn’t benefit from employment, housing, credit, and public accommodations nondiscrimination protections in many states.
Research shows that signs of LGBTQ support, such as gay-straight alliances, are important to foster a better learning environment for vulnerable queer students and school staff who are often bullied or harassed. Yet, school administrators continue to push back on even the smallest expressions of support.
Amy Estes, a gay middle school English teacher at Spring View Middle School in Rocklin Unified School District in California told ThinkProgress in 2018 that when she put up a GLSEN poster meant to affirm queer and trans students in 2016, the school principal asked her to remove it. In 2019, administrators at a public charter school in New Jersey painted over part of a student-created mural supporting LGBTQ people. A reverend with the school’s landlord, Holy Trinity Church, Paul Prevosto, called the mural “offensive,” according to the progressive news site The New Civil Rights Movement.