DARIEN – Residents are pleading with Darien officials to revoke a contested flag policy and allow a pride flag to wave outside Town Hall.
The policy, approved in November, prohibits all flags on municipal flagpoles apart from federal, state and town flags. But on Monday, about 50 residents rallied at Board of Selectmen meeting to urge support for LGBTQ+ community members, following a recent anti-LGBT incident in Greenwich.
Soon after the town of Greenwich raised a pride flag at its Town Hall earlier this month, numerous signs reading “Groomers” were placed nearby. Greenwich officials denounced the signs and are investigating the incident. Randall Klein, a rally organizer and former chair of the Democratic Town Committee, told CT Examiner on Wednesday that he’d like Darien to take a stand as well.
“I think what really gave it its jumpstart was what had happened in Greenwich,” Klein said. “We got together and we said, ‘This can’t stand. We have to speak out against this now for those in Darien.’”
While such signs have not appeared in Darien, residents who spoke at the meeting cited their experiences with homophobia in town and emphasized the importance of municipal support.
Maggie Ramsay, a Darien High School graduate and student at the University of Southern California, described the treatment she received as a queer student while attending Darien Public Schools.
“While I was in high school, I was slurred, pushed, shoved, had a can thrown at my head, drink splashed in my face and even parents who told their kids that they couldn’t be friends with me anymore,” Ramsay told board members. “Our town made it hard for me to live, let alone thrive.”
Now a rising sophomore playing lacrosse at USC, Ramsay said the university helps LGBTQ+ athletes feel safe and welcomed through mandatory diversity and inclusion meetings and a “pride game” in which players wear rainbow shirts and sweatbands. She compared her time at USC to her experience growing up in Darien.
“Our pride game this year was one of the best days of my life because I never felt so seen, so safe and so heard. Coming from Darien to an environment like USC has been the best decision of my life,” she said. “But why should students have to wait until college to be living their best life and most authentic life?”
Ramsay urged the board to follow in the footsteps of nearby municipalities like Greenwich, Fairfield, Westport, Weston and Easton which, she said, are flying pride flags this month.
Jess Batson, another former Darien student, said she did not feel comfortable coming out as a transgender woman until she attended college.
“There was no talk about trans people,” Batson said. “… There was only degrading comments. You take a flag away that supports those people, it encourages those degrading comments.”
Teddy Garcia, who grew up in Darien, said it’s up to town leaders to tell others it’s OK to be transgender, queer and gay.
“We are in very different positions, you and me,” Garcia told board members. “I’m in the position to tell you what it’s like to be a queer, trans youth in this town, and you are in a position to do something about it.”
While most in attendance spoke in favor of raising the pride flag for the remainder of the month of June, one resident said she was offended by the demonstration in front of the Town Hall.
Republican Town Committee Chair Rachel Taylor said the group had draped pride flags over veteran memorial plaques beside the municipal flagpoles.
“Let me be clear – I have absolutely no issue with the freedom and the right of anyone at all to assemble and speak in public,” she said. “But I really, surely do take serious issue with those who would drape their cause over the honored memorials of those men and women who died for their freedom to do so.”
Taylor also called the group “brazen, selfish and insensitive” for covering a Civil War veterans memorial the week prior.
“You have effectively dishonored the very soldiers who died in service to ending slavery, which we should be rightfully celebrating their accomplishment and their memory today,” she said.
Klein told CT Examiner that the flag draped over the memorial was a minor error.
“The flag was draped there for 20 minutes,” Klein said. “And candidly, I think it [Taylor’s comment] was more of an attempt to deflect from the real important issue that was being discussed, which is the flag should be up on the flagpole.”
While public comments on the flag policy accounted for almost 40 minutes of the meeting, Klein said it was “disturbing” that the Board of Selectmen did not discuss or vote on the issue.
“When the opportunity is there right in front of you to do so, there’s an expectation or a hope that one would take action on it,” he said.
Dan Gueller, chair of the town’s Pride Committee, told CT Examiner he found the meeting and rally to be inspiring.
“Each speaker demonstrated that Darien is in need of a comprehensive, nuanced flag policy,” Gueller said. “And the over 700 attendees of our Darien Pride Celebration prove that Darien is ready to be seen as the inclusive, welcoming town that I know it is.