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Majority of Galesburg city council doesn’t want pride flags to fly this year

The Pride Progress and American Flag fly on Galesburg's Public Square.
Courtesy photo
Jeanette Chernin
The Pride Progress and American Flag fly on Galesburg's Public Square.

The LGBTQ+ community is asking allies to turn out to Monday's council meeting in support.

It was 2020 when the pride flag was first flown at Galesburg city hall during June in recognition of Pride Month.

The following year, pride and progress flags were flown at city hall and on the public square.

Last year, a flag was added to the welcome center.

“I grew up in this community and around this community and I’ll be honest. I didn’t always feel like I had a place,” said Galesburg resident and activist Christina King. “To see the flag flown here and not only that but to have our mayor and city council back up our community, I cannot even describe in words.”

King serves as chair of the city’s Community Relations Commission, which works to resolve issues of discrimination in Galesburg, and was crowned Miss Trans Illinois in 2020 and Miss Nationwide in 2022.

She and others in the LGBTQ+ community are now rallying for the flag-flying to continue in Galesburg this year.

King said after the council unanimously approved a resolution last year to proclaim Pride Month and fly the flags, she thought there was a precedent.

“If anything, we should have just had a proclamation from the mayor this year to say, hey, we reiterate our support for this community, we re-recognize that this is an important cause,” King said.

A Pride Month resolution was put on the agenda for the Monday, June 5 meeting, that is very similar to last year’s.

But after the agenda was released on Wednesday last week, King said four council members -- who constitute a majority -- contacted the acting city manager to request that the flag-flying portion of the resolution be removed.

King said one council member told her he’s just not comfortable flying the flag.

“I asked why and I never really got a set answer. The most frustrating part about this is that there’s a bunch of shadow excuses. There’s oh, well we’re just uncomfortable flying the flag. We don’t want to fly the flag until we have a flag ordinance, is what I was told,” King said.

King said she’s all for it if people want to fly different flags representing different identities at city hall, but she believes there’s more to it than council members wanting a flag ordinance.

She noted it’s public knowledge that one of the council members opposed to flying the flags this year has been under fire for transphobic tweets.

“Both calling members of my community freaks, or talking about changing our pronouns to they and were. And it’s disgusting. It truly is disgusting to see that. And I think that’s what the difference is. People are feeling more emboldened, because they were allowed to get away with things like that,” she said.

Mayor Peter Schwartzman said he’s in favor of a flag ordinance or policy and asked previous city managers to create one, though no work was done on it.

His recommendation to the council was to fly the pride and progress flags this month as has been done in the past, then evaluate a flag policy next month.

Schwartzman also said he’s asked the council to reconsider not flying the flags because of the “negative backlash” it would bring to the city, but has not heard back from any of the four council members.

Ward Six Council Member Sarah Davis is the youngest and perhaps only openly queer person to ever serve on the Galesburg city council.

She said none of the council members who don’t want the flags flown contacted her for her opinion or insights as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

“That’s an intentional decision to exclude the voice of someone who represents an oppressed group of people,” Davis said. “It’s not about technicalities. It is thinly veiled bigotry and it is embarrassingly transparent.”

It’s likely that the four council members will vote for the resolution in support of LGBTQ+ community, despite not wanting the flags to fly.

“Those words are meaningless if you’re still looking at people who are oppressed and trying to kick them while they’re down,” Davis said. “And that’s what this feels like.”

The LGBTQ+ community plans to turn out for Monday’s meeting, which begins at 5:30 p.m.

They’re asking allies to come to the meeting and speak during public comment.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

Jane Carlson is TSPR's regional reporter.