It’ll only be flying for 10 days this year, but the rainbow flag marking Pride Month, will flutter below Old Glory on the flagpole in front of the Riverside Township Hall through June 30 after the village board voted unanimously Thursday to fly the banner representing the LGBTQ+ community.

The trustees’ vote also approved flying the Pride flag throughout every June in subsequent years. The decision, Village President Ben Sells said, was in harmony with a resolution passed by the village board in 2017 affirming the village’s commitment to inclusion.

“To me, what the Pride flag represents is what’s beautiful about this country,” Sells said. “I think it has a universal status that transcends organizational flags. I think it is universally recognized as a symbol of equal protection under the law, equality, fairness, decency, all of which are the ideals that make Riverside such a special place.”

For those who had advocated flying the Pride flag for the past month, including Indivisible West Suburban Action League, the wait for a decision from trustees was a frustrating one, and had resulted in some social media chatter and emails, accusing elected officials of foot-dragging at best or homophobia at worst.

Three trustees, Edward Hannon, Wendell Jisa and Elizabeth Peters, referenced those communications prior to the June 20 vote, which was the board’s only meeting this month. The June 6 meeting was canceled.

Representatives from the Indivisible group reportedly approached the village on June 3 about flying the Pride flag. When the village didn’t act immediately, Hannon said, some people took to social media to criticize officials’ inaction.

Hannon said if the issue was so important, the group should have approached the village well in advance of June.

“To read on social media that the village is not going to pass this resolution when you didn’t even give us an opportunity to meet is offensive,” Hannon said. “You should be embarrassed.”

Peters urged the village board to consider developing a process for handling requests like the one to fly the Pride flag, indicating that the village’s decision to do so likely will result in other groups making similar requests.

“The struggle here is that we really couldn’t make the statement, and people were getting frustrated that we weren’t making the statement, and that creates the animosity that is, frankly, unneeded,” Peters said.

 Hannon added that any policy should clearly indicate any such requests would reflect the village’s First Amendment rights versus creating a “limited public space” available to organizations.

Lisa Janunas and Lisa Garay of Indivisible West Suburban Action League thanked elected officials for supporting the resolution, and Gray apologized for the online fallout from the delay on a vote. Janunas noted the group was unsure of the process for getting approval when they approached the village.

“In no way did we mean to offend anyone or to put you all in a bad spot,” Garay said.

But not everyone was happy with the village board’s decision to support the resolution to fly the Pride flag during the month of June.

Riverside resident Linda McCarter said she didn’t feel it was the village board’s job to decide what flags represent the values of its residents, and that the U.S. flag should alone serve as a symbol of inclusiveness. The Pride flag, she said, did not represent her values.

“So, do I come to the next meeting and say I want to fly a straight pride flag, because that represents my values,” McCarter said. “You are really opening up something big. We already have a flag that represents us all.”

Indivisible West Suburban Action League also approached the village of North Riverside about flying the Pride flag during the month of June. The request was approved without discussion by unanimous voice vote at the village board’s June 3 meeting.

The flag has been flying in front of the Village Commons, below the North Riverside flag on a pole next to the U.S. flag since then.

Trustee upset over Legion flag request

The belief that approving a resolution to fly the Pride flag in June would spawn other such requests reverberated immediately last week during an exchange at the village board table between Trustee Alex Gallegos and President Ben Sells over the Riverside American Legion post’s request to fly a flag on the pole outside the township hall.

A few months ago, American Legion Post 488 Commander Joseph Topinka presented an American Legion flag to the village, requesting that it be flown to mark the 100th anniversary of the American Legion’s founding.

The village did not immediately reply, leading Gallegos and others to believe the request had been denied. With the village on the verge of permitting the Pride flag to fly, and having already purchased a flag to display, Gallegos suggested the village was choosing one flag over the other.

“So we have special treatment for one over the other,” Gallegos said at the June 20 village board meeting.

Sells called Gallegos’ version of the story “misinformation” and said that the appropriate time to display the Legion’s flag is in September, which is the anniversary of the organization’s charter, and that if the village board decided to fly the flag to mark that occasion it would at that time.

In retrospect, Sells said in a follow-up interview, the village should have let the Legion know officials were trying to figure out how to move ahead with such requests.

“We should have contacted them to let them know what we were doing,” Sells said. “The Pride flag request crystallized things and showed us we needed to figure this out.”

One thing the village won’t do, Sells said, is fly flags donated to them by organizations. The village will purchase the flags if the village board approves flying them.

“We gave Indivisible [West Suburban Action League] their [Pride] flag back, and we’ll have to give this [American Legion] flag back,” said Sells.

According to Sells, a board discussion on flying the American Legion flag to commemorate the 100th anniversary will come in late July or early August.

“We’ll have the same discussion we had [June 20 about the Pride flag],” Sells said.

Bob Uphue