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Middletown veterans council questions mayor's decision to fly pride flag at all city buildings

New Haven Register - 2/9/2024

Feb. 9—MIDDLETOWN — The pride flag will start flying year-round at all city buildings this year, Mayor Ben Florsheim told his department heads in a Jan. 17 memorandum.

But the move has prompted questions from the local Council of Veterans, which has usually been consulted in the past about flag protocol, according to Karen Uberti, the veterans council's assistant adjutant and commander of Jewish War Veterans Post 51.

At a Jan. 23 meeting, members of the veterans council reached a consensus that the pride flag and other "special interest" flags "do not belong on the government flag pole," which is the tallest of the poles and flies the American, Connecticut and the POW flags, Uberti said.

"No more than three flags should be on the flag pole," she added.

"This does not mean that we don't support the pride flag or other special interest flags," Uberti said. "If the mayor wishes to install a shorter pole, or use another means of decorations, that is not our domain."

The veterans council consists of three representatives from each Middletown veterans post, usually the post commander and two appointed members, Uberti said.

In addition to coordinating activities among veterans posts, the council receives support from the city and is "tasked with the job of maintaining the government flags across the city, a job with which we take most seriously," she said. "We follow the guidelines set out in the Uniform Code of Military Conduct which we were all instructed in service to our country."

In an interview, Florsheim disputed the idea that the pride flag represents a special interest group.

"It's representing the community," he said.

The mayor also said the POW/MIA flag, recognizing U.S. service members who are prisoners of war or missing in action, is not a government flag and the city has flown it for many years.

In his memorandum to department heads, the mayor wrote that flying the pride flag year-round at all city buildings is "in keeping with our efforts to make Middletown a welcoming community for all."

The flag has been flown only at City Hall until now, he wrote.

Ken McClellan, commander of the veterans council, has circulated the mayor's memo to Republican members of the city's Common Council and others.

In an email to Hearst Connecticut Media, McClellan argued against flying the pride flag over city buildings but stressed he was speaking for himself, rather than the veterans council.

"There is a difference between being welcoming and accepting of various faiths, skin color, beliefs, heritage, etc., and endorsing a specific group," he wrote. "By permanently flying a flag representing one group, the mayor, and by extension, the city of Middletown are endorsing and promoting that group. This means that other groups are not as welcome or accepted."

He said flying the pride flag also opens the door for other groups to have their flag flown, but did not elaborate on what other groups he was referring to.

"There are a number of groups with flags representing diverse beliefs that would not be appropriate to fly," McClellan wrote. "If the city put those flags on city buildings, there would be loud protests, and I, personally would object if those flags appeared on city buildings."

The pride flag recognizes what is now known as the LGBTQIA2S+ community. Those initials stand for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, asexual, and two-spirit, according to Middletown Pride and the city's LGBTQIA2S+ Commission.

Two-spirit is a term for transgender people used in Indigenous and Native cultures, according to Christopher Forte, the city's assistant general counsel and the founder of the pride group.

There has been some pushback against flying pride flags in at least one other Connecticut community, Enfield, which has flown a rainbow flag in honor of Pride Month since 2022.

In a 6-5 vote, Enfield'sTown Council adopted a policy forbidding any flag from flying in front of town buildings and on town flag poles except for the U.S., Connecticut and POW/MIA flags.

Feb 9, 2024

By Alex Wood

Alex Wood has been with the Journal Inquirer since 1985 and joined Hearst Connecticut Media Group when it acquired the JI in 2023. He has covered courts for more than 30 years along with a number of other assignments. He is married with a grown daughter and son-in-law, teaches church school, and enjoys riding a bicycle, hiking, listening to music and watching a small part of the cornucopia of video entertainment now available through streaming.


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