After long discussion, Boonton approves Pride flag raising. But not at Town Hall

A majority of the Boonton Council voted on Tuesday in favor of raising the Pride flag on town property.

The question of exactly where it would fly was a more difficult debate during a three-hour session in which a 5-4 block voted against flying it on the flagpole over Town Hall. That vote mirrored party lines on the council, with all five Republicans voting it down.

But after nearly two hours of debate among the board members and public comment heavily in favor of seeing the flag displayed, the council voted 6-3 to fly it on a municipal pole at Grace Lord Park, one of the host sites for the upcoming third-annual Boonton Rainbow Pride celebration on June 17.

Council members Ben Weisman and Marie Devenezia led the argument for raising the flag at Town Hall. Some other towns in Morris County have done so, including heavily Republican Jefferson Township. But the banner is still an issue in Boonton, known as an increasingly diverse community with a large LGBTQ+ presence including several business owners.

"Seeing a ceremonial flag along with the American flag, in accordance with the federal flag code, on our own town's flagpole, is a proactive and visible expression of Boonton's support for our LGBTQIA neighbors," said Weisman, whose wife is a Boonton Rainbow Pride co-founder.

Council members who objected said the United States flag represents everyone and should fly alone, except for the approved state and POW/MIA flags.

"I have great sympathy [for the LGBTQ community] but there are other residents of this town who would oppose this motion," said Ward 3 Councilman Daniel Balan. "It is not the business of municipal government to endorse these symbols of private groups on our flagpole," he said.

"Bottom line, it's about respect for the [U.S.] flag," Councilman Cyril Wekilsky said.

A crowd gathers at Town Hall for the Boonton Rainbow Pride event. June 12, 2021

Mayor Richard Corcoran, a Democrat, spoke of the Stonewall uprising of June 1969 in New York's Greenwich Village, seen as the historic launch of the gay liberation movement in the U.S. The protests that followed led to the designation of June as Pride Month.

The Pride flag, he said, was "a recognition not only of how far we've come since Stonewall, but how far we still need to go. That we're still here debating this. This is an attempt to do better."

The vast majority of public commenters agreed with Corcoran and took the objectors to task. Only one resident spoke out against the resolution.

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Cedar Street resident Michelle Luckey told the council she and her wife were chased by teens in Virginia "because we were lesbian and had a disease."

"It took us 54 years to get where we are today and we're not stopping," she said. "Whether you hang the flag tomorrow or hang it 10 years from now, that flag will fly in Boonton one day, because our Boonton Rainbow Pride is going to get bigger and bigger every year. Let us celebrate our way. Let us know we have a safe town, a safe community to come to. Let everyone else know."

The lone resident objector during the public comment period, William Kelly, identified as a devout Roman Catholic, was shouted down by the audience when he said he felt "personally threatened by the pride flag flying." Corcoran had to loudly demand calm from the audience to let Kelly finish.

The Boonton Rainbow Arch at the 2021 Boonton Rainbow Pride event at Grace Lord Park.

"I think there is a lack of self-awareness among the movement itself nationally," he said "You can't disparage people's faith. We have the right to believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. We have the right to believe that children should not be sexualized in school. We're the ones who are discriminated against. It's too much in your face. You have to calm down a little bit. Stop the hate and you will be accepted more."

It took an out-of-towner, Hawthorne Pride Alliance chairman Micheal Stracco, to present a compromise that worked in his town.

"I heard the same debate there," Stracco said. "We solved the problem. We got a new pole and it's on municipal grounds. Every month, something goes up on that flagpole."

Corcoran seized on the idea and quickly motioned to fund a new flagpole on Town Hall property, but that vote failed 7-2 as council members already were entertaining a suggestion by Councilman John Meehan to fly it on the existing pole at Grace Lord Park.

A gay pride parade is flown at the Boonton Elks Club during the Boonton Rainbow Pride event. June 12, 2021

"We do our Nativity scene there, and our menorah and that flagpole is in a prominent place," Meehan said. "I think it's tailor-made and ready to go."

With Republicans Meehan and Mike Wade joining the Democrats, that measure passed by a 6-3 vote.

The expectation is the flag will be raised on or before the Boonton Rainbow Pride event on June 17 and stay up for the remainder of Pride Month.

"Though our position is that raising the Pride flag at Town Hall is the ultimate form of affirmation the town could make for the LGBTQIA+ community, we are pleased with the progress that was made during [Tuesday's] meeting," Boonton Rainbow Pride announced after the meeting.

June 17 celebration

More rainbows will be seen in Boonton for the third-annual Boonton Rainbow Pride event, which again includes a separate Pride flag raising at the Boonton Elks Lodge on Cornelia Street at 11 a.m. Festivities at Grace Lord Park are rain-or-shine from noon until 5 p.m., including picnic space for families, live music, speakers, exhibitors representing dozens of community support groups and other activities.

Several businesses including restaurants in town will also participate, offering sponsorship support and specials for shoppers and diners.

This article originally appeared on Morristown Daily Record: Boonton NJ approves Pride flag raising, but not at Town Hall