Darien’s Board of Selectmen met on Monday evening to discuss and eventually table a proposed flag policy, which raised significant opposition among some residents.
The Display of Flags policy held that only the national, state and town flags would be permitted to fly on or over town-owned properties. Members of Darien Pride stepped to the podium to voice their opposition during the public comments section.
“The proposed Display of Flag policy as written would ban flying the Pride flag on town property, denying our queer youth the comfort in knowing that they are supported and accepted by Darien leaders,” Dan Guller, chair of the town’s Pride committee, said.
Guller applauded Republican First Selectman Monica McNally for her support of the committee during the town’s first large-scale Pride event this past June and asked the board to reject the proposed policy.
“Let’s raise the Pride flag and show our love in Darien,” he said. “Let this reflect who we are.”
McNally thanked all attendees for joining in the discussion, but explained that the policy was suggested when a Darien resident requested that the Ukrainian flag be flown by the town. She said that it was not a decision she felt comfortable making on her own and felt that Darien needed to create flag regulations.
“I appreciate the Pride people coming out and I can see where you would feel that this was somehow, you know, targeted for you,” McNally said. “But you really – you couldn’t be more wrong.”
She said that a lack of flag policy leaves the town unprotected against lawsuits, citing the Supreme Court decision in the Shurtleff v. Boston case. Earlier this year, the court unanimously voted that the city of Boston violated a private organization’s First Amendment rights by refusing to allow them to raise a Christian flag outside of Boston City Hall, given that they had allowed other secular flags in the past.
McNally said she asked her staff to look to other Connecticut towns for direction. In April 2022, Southington adopted a policy similar to Darien’s original draft. Residents wanted the town to fly the Ukrainian and Pride flags, but the Town Council did not allow it. Despite local protest, they ruled that with the exception of POW/MIA flags, Southington-owned flag poles are not intended to serve as a form of expression by the public.
Victoria Triano, Republican chair of the council, told CT Examiner that Southington wanted to underscore that the American flag covers everyone in America. She wished Darien officials good luck at the meeting.
“It’s not without controversy, but I hope they do what they feel they need to do for their own community,” Triano said.
Bloomfield’s Town Council took a different approach, deciding that as an expression of the town’s government speech, they could authorize the display of Commemorative or Organizational Flags at town-owned properties.
Residents can make a request to Bloomfield Town Manager, Stanley Hawthorne, who distributes it to the council for voting. Hawthorne said the process has been “going well” and, to his knowledge, council members have yet to deny a request. The town flew the Pride flag this June.
During the policy discussion, Democratic Selectman Michael Burke said the Supreme Court decision left it up to municipalities to create their own policies that allow for Pride flags and others, and voters will have the ability to replace board members if they disagree.
“I think it’s really incumbent on us to work hard to do what our community is speaking to us about,” Burke said. “It’s maybe a heavier lift, not a complete ban, but sometimes we have to do the heavier things.”
Town Attorney Wayne Fox said that he will continue to study flag policies of other communities and Darien will make a decision only when they have exhausted their need for knowledge.
Resident David Martin implored the board to stay consistent with the town’s recently-adopted community values, stating that Darien values equity, fairness, inclusivity and dignity for all.
The decision to table the vote was unanimous among the Board of Selectmen.
A video of the meeting streamed by Darien TV79 is available here.