Emotions high as Westerville debates flying Pride flag at city hall

Local News

WESTERVILLE, Ohio (WCMH) — Emotions ran high Tuesday night during a Westerville City Council meeting as there was an at-times heated discussion about flying a Pride flag at Westerville City Hall.

During Tuesday’s meeting, a group gathered outside city hall in support of flying the flag.

As the group sang, danced, and carried Pride flags outside, city council was meeting inside, presiding over a lengthy public comment period about the topic.

Eventually, councilmember Alex Heckman introduced a motion to fly the Pride flag on the same flagpole with the city flag. If that wasn’t possible, the motion called for the Pride flag to be flown prominently in front of city hall as close as possible to flagpole flying the Westerville flag. 

Councilmember Valerie Cumming supported the motion, and that is what the Westerville Queer Collective is pushing for as well.

Much of the discussion against flying the flag was about creating a commemorative flag policy before flying a Pride flag, and eventually, a motion to create a policy was passed.

Then, in a last-minute move, council chairman Mike Heyeck made a motion to hang the Pride flag on a light post by the street in front of city hall starting June 22.

This motion passed 6-1, with councilmember Craig Treneff voting against it.

Cumming said the motion that was passed was “a sad little kind of knock off” of what was initially proposed.

“So whether we fly it 10 feet away or across the street, or in any little nook or cranny that we can find, the damage has been done,” Cumming said. “People have already seen that we can’t come together as a community over something as simple as a Pride flag.”

Proponents of flying the flag say it is not what they wanted coming here tonight.

“One argument after another broke down about why we shouldn’t fly it,” Cumming said. “There was really, in the end, no good reason to not fly it except that we were simply afraid of unintended consequences that weren’t even an issue, so, again, we placed policy and fear above humanity and respect for our residents.”

“I think the proper legislative process would take into account the need to address future commemorative flags, and if we simply do this without a background for doing it, I’m concerned what we may have opened the door for,” Treneff said.

Councilmember Alex Heckman said the outcome made council look like it couldn’t work together.

“We could have had a really great night tonight where we celebrated and recognized the LGBTQ community in Westerville and instead, we look ridiculous and like we don’t care and we don’t support the LGBTQ community,” he said. “And then we had this hasty motion that people voted for after saying they didn’t want to do anything hasty, so none of it makes any sense to me.”

At times people speaking over council outside of public comment were asked to leave and walked out by police. 

One of the people demonstrating in favor of the flag said she was arrested, charged with trespassing, and then released.

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