Contention over Pride flag in Avon comes to a head at Town Council meeting
An email exchange between a council member and a resident sparks a conversation around the town’s flying of a Pride flag
The town of Avon hosted its second annual Pride in the Park event earlier this month. As part of the celebration and to show its support of the event, the town flew a Pride flag in its roundabout at Avon Road and Benchmark Road.
“I think it would be powerful for our community to show that this is a safe and accepting place; it’s a way to say all are welcome,” said council member Lindsay Hardy at the May 11 meeting of the Town Council, where council members expressed their support for flying the flag in Avon.
However, the flag being flown during Pride week became a point of contention for the town’s residents, via Facebook posts and a letter to the Vail Daily. It wasn’t until the flag was taken down — as originally planned — that emails began coming in to Town Council.
At Tuesday’s meeting, members of the public shared an email exchange between a citizen, Heather Bergquist, and the town’s Mayor Pro Tem Amy Phillips regarding the flag’s removal. At the meeting, Krista Keiser read the email exchange between the two parties.
Bergquist’s email thanked the council for taking down the “rainbow flag” and then read, “I am proud to live in the United States and proud to live in Colorado. I appreciate that we can unify around these two things as a community.”
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In response, as read by Andrew Keiser at the Town Council meeting, Phillips responded that the flag was taken down due to council direction following the Pride in the Park event, which she called “highly successful and important.”
Phillips went on to write that, “Your bigoted perspective is harmful to the mental health of many and is not tolerated by employees of the Town of Avon. Sadly, you are educating hate not inclusion. I hope you are not passing your bigoted views to the next generation. Your comments will be remembered next year when I ask the council to get bigger flags and fly them for the entire month of June.”
According to the Avon Mayor Sarah Smith Hymes, the town received an “overwhelming number of emails in response to the issue.” According to Ineke de Jong, general government manager for Avon, six to 10 emails came in against the flag, and nearly 90 emails came in in support of the flag being flown, with emails still coming in.
Members of the Eagle County Pride committee, which is the group responsible for organizing Pride in the Park, organized their community to send emails in support of Avon flying of the Pride flag after they became aware of backlash against the flag. The hope being, according to Madison Partridge, one of five Pride in the Park committee members, that positivity outweighed any negativity around the flag.
“We know this visibility of the LGBTQ+ community is very important, because it saves lives through feeling accepted. It helps us bridge community, inclusion and representation that our community needs. This type of action has lasting impacts,” Partridge said at the Town Council meeting. “We hope that this tradition of flying the Pride flag will continue. We hope that this continued promotion of love and acceptance continues year after year.”
At the end of the Town Council meeting, the majority of the Avon council members addressed the pride flag and emails, including Phillips who stood by her response.
“We are all sworn to uphold the laws of the state of Colorado. The laws of the state of Colorado include the fact that the LGBTQ community is a protected class and has been for a decade. Whereas, I understand that people have different views on that, the law is the law,” Phillips said. “I’m a sworn officer of the law, and no matter how sweetly and honey dripping your words are, if your words are bigoted and discriminate against the LGBTQ community, you are violating Colorado laws.”
Council member Chico Thuon called for the council to act with more tolerance for differing beliefs and kindness.
“There were three people really that were disgusted with us for flying the flag; we have to respect their disgusted feeling. Then there were people that were so joyous that we saved the day; we have to respect that as well. Whatever our views are as public officials, we just have to be tolerant of voices,” Thuon said.
This sentiment was something Smith Hymes didn’t necessarily agree with, agreeing to disagree. “I don’t think you have to respect someone’s opinion that is a position of intolerance, and that’s what this council has represented in the past. Tolerance for divergent views are fine,” she said.
Multiple members of council expressed that while they agreed with the sentiment behind Phillips’ email, they did not agree with the words used.
“I completely agree with Amy’s sentiments in the email that she sent out; 100% agree with it,” Smith Hymes said. “I wouldn’t have chosen the words that she chose.”
Similarly, RJ Andrade said that while he was totally in favor of the flag, “some of Amy’s verbiage scared me.”
Multiple members of council, including Smith Hymes and Andrade, expressed that the response might be reason to adopt a code of conduct for council, particularly in differentiating when an opinion is one of the entire council and when it is one of an individual council member.
Flying the flag
The subject in contention — the Pride flag itself — is something that Pride in the Park committee member Orlando Ortiz said is actually for everyone.
“The flag, though it may seem to others that it just represents the LGTBQ+ community, which it does, the colors stand for things we all stand for. Every color represents something: Red is life, orange is healing, yellow is sunlight, green is nature, and blue is serenity. It really represents a diverse community and everyone coming together as one,” Ortiz said.
Some of the dissenting opinions argued the town had no right to fly the flag. However, town attorney Paul Wisor said the town and council have the right of government speech under the first amendment.
“You can support LGBTQ+ rights by raising that flag at your discretion and expressing your support that way. Because you do not allow other individuals or entities to access that flagpole, that flagpole is your forum in which you can express your opinion,” Wisor said.
In response to all of the emails received on the matter, the town of Avon intends to send a message explaining its use of the flag.
Eagle County Pride hopes the flag will continue to fly in future years as the flag represents a lot for the LGBTQ+ community.
“Seeing the flag in the roundabout was one of the most emotional experiences I had through this entire Pride month. The town of Avon is standing up representing us in that way they never have before,” Ortiz said. “It’s hope.”