Manor board should reverse unwritten ‘longstanding policy’ and fly Pride flag like many other municipalities

To the editor:

More than 100 Pelham Manor residents once again requested the Pelham Manor Board of Trustees fly a Pride flag during this June Pride Month in support of our LGBTQIA+ family, friends, students and community members. The Pelham Manor mayor and trustees have once again refused. We urge them to reverse course and fly the Pride flag as a public, tangible display in support of Pride Month.

The LGBTQIA+ community is present in Pelham Manor—in our families, town employees, visitors and, importantly, our youth. On a personal level, many LGBTQIA+ people experience support and friendship in our small village. However, that is not enough. Part of the importance of flying the Pride flag is that it makes visible what has historically been hidden, and it provides a symbol of visibility on behalf those who aren’t able to be personally visible themselves. For Pelham Manor to fly the Pride flag would be an overt commitment to diversity and inclusion, and it would show support for a group that has been historically marginalized and routinely faces discrimination and violence based on their identity. For the village to fly the Pride flag is not an endorsement of any political beliefs or stances.

Explicit support for marginalized/underrepresented groups in our community is an important statement of our shared community values. The absence of support in the Village of Pelham Manor for this widely accepted community practice is a significant and negative outlier relative to many governments and businesses. Other municipalities including the Village of Pelham, Town of Pelham, City of Rye, Westchester County and U.S. buildings and embassies around the world, as well as countless corporations, have realized the importance of welcoming everyone with this action.

Requests to fly the Pride flag have been met with the response from the Village of Pelham Manor that outside counsel has advised the village that it should not raise flags or feature endorsement symbols for specific groups on village property.

It is unclear what advice outside counsel has given the board, but our understanding of the applicable law is that under United Veterans Memorial and Patriotic Assoc. of the City of New Rochelle v. City of New Rochelle, a municipality is free to display whatever it wishes on government property, as this constitutes government speech and is not subject to scrutiny under the free speech clause of the U.S. Constitution. That is, when a municipality flies a flag on a government-owned flagpole, the government is speaking for itself, not creating a public forum for private speech. This has been reaffirmed by the NYCLU in communication to the City Council of Rye, and they have made the decision to fly the flag this year.

So, to be clear, the Village of Pelham Manor can choose to fly a Pride flag on its flagpole. It is choosing not to do so, based on a “longstanding policy” that apparently is not written down anywhere, and has not been explained to residents. Even if it is a policy, it can be changed, as so many other municipalities have demonstrated.

Notably, if it refuses to fly a Pride flag on its flagpole, the Village of Pelham Manor board could provide an alternative public Pride display at some other government-owned location. Yet in 2020 and again now in 2021, the board has not offered any such options—it has merely rejected the request and has also refused to engage in a conversation with constituents on this matter.

While statements of community support, such as Tuesday’s Pride Month letter from the board, are helpful, a quick-written statement of their own views is simply not an adequate substitute for heeding the community’s request to fly the flag. Indeed, it is easy to interpret such statements in combination with an outright refusal to allow a public display as an indication that the village wants to provide only the semblance of support, not the real thing. Actions matter, and a tangible display of this support is not only the right thing to do, it is vital. Certainly, many neighboring municipalities show this level of public support during Pride Month.

Over the past several months of local elections for Pelham Manor and the school board, there’s been a lot of talk about the desire to put community above political ideologies and partisanship, and we agree. We are, and should be, neighbors first. However, by ignoring the voices of over 100 neighbors and instead following only its own internal decision-making process, the Pelham Manor board is engaging in exactly the kind of partisanship it claims to dislike and behaving in a most unneighborly way. As elected officials representing the entire Pelham Manor community, the board has an obligation to demonstrate respect for all community members, not just the ones most aligned with its own views.

We urge the board to dig deep and be bold, forward thinking and empathetic toward all its residents. These deeds, not just words, are important affirmations that ensure our LGBTQIA+ friends and neighbors are recognized as fully equal members of our community.

In the meantime, we encourage all Pelham Manor residents to fly their Pride flags high. Everyone is invited to help us celebrate our LGBTQIA+ family members, friends, neighbors, colleagues and youth!

Aartie Manansingh

525 Wynnewood Road

Steve Salee

528 Stellar Avenue