A new policy in Chelmsford that will prevent flying the Pride flag on town property is drawing protests from the local LBGTQ community.
The rainbow flag flew at the Chelmsford Center for the Arts, the senior center, and some of the town’s schools in June after the Board of Selectmen issued its first proclamation recognizing June as Pride Month in town. About 1,000 hand-held flags also were distributed.
But with some selectmen citing concerns the town could face lawsuits if it denied requests by other groups to display their flags, the board voted 4-1 on Sept. 9 for a new policy that bars any flag to be flown on town property except the American, Massachusetts, and Chelmsford flags, the POW/MIA flag, or a town department flag.
Maura Snow, who is the mother or an openly gay son — Town Meeting representative Patrick Snow — and who purchased the flags displayed in June, called the selectmen’s action “a slap in the face” to the town’s LBGTQ community.
“Kids all saw Pride flags in their schools and were happy about it. What are we going to say to them next June when they see no Pride flags?” Snow said. “They’ll be told the town doesn’t allow that.”
She said LGBTQ community members will be urging selectmen to reconsider the policy at its meeting on Monday, Sept. 23.
Snow believes selectmen responded to pressure, saying she had heard that some residents had threatened to sue if their flags were not also flown.
But selectmen chairman Kenneth Lefebvre said the policy was simply intended to protect Chelmsford from potential legal fights, citing previous lawsuits over seemingly minor town actions.
“Whether they are frivolous or not, we have to defend against them; it still costs taxpayers money,” he said, adding of the board, “It’s not our job to pick and choose” which flags to allow.
Lefebvre denied anyone threatened a lawsuit. He said some residents simply asked him if the town would allow other flags to fly — one of them mentioned as examples a “Blue Lives Matter” flag supporting police, a right-to-life flag, and cancer awareness flags. He said residents also warned the town could face legal risks, reinforcing his own concerns.
“It doesn’t affect businesses, homeowners, churches, or others who want to fly Pride flags,” he said of the new policy. “If they want to fly them, that’s fine.”
But Selectwoman Emily Antul, who cast the sole vote against the new policy, said she was “horrified and ashamed” at the board’s action.
“After acknowledging the need to celebrate various aspects of our diversity, we then shut that down,” Antul said, an action she believes conveys the message that “We are going to keep this hidden. The flags are too noticeable.”
Corey Prachniak-Rincón, director of the Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth, said that “lots of other cities and towns fly Pride flags. . . . It happens all over the country. It’s a little odd they would be concerned about [lawsuits].”
Selectwoman Virginia Crocker Timmins said her support for the new policy was “not targeted at any one group,” but instead was based on her belief that “It’s not the place of municipal government to take stands on social justice or political issues.”
Observing that there are “far more issues” that people advocate for than there are months in the year, she added, “How do you start making those choices? It’s not a reflection of what I support or don’t support. I simply don’t feel it’s our role.”
John Laidler can be reached at email@example.com.