YARDLEY BOROUGH >> The borough has a new policy regulating the use of flagpoles at borough hall and at Buttonwood Park.
In a 3 to 2 vote on August 17, council approved a resolution laying out the procedure for the display of flags, limiting the World War II pole to the American flag, but allowing other banners to be displayed at flag mastheads in front of borough hall and at a flagpole at Buttonwood Park.
The issue surfaced in July when American Legion commander Ted Smith asked council to pass a resolution limiting the flagpole in front of borough hall to flying just the American flag.
In June, the council had raised the Progress Pride flag for the first time on the borough hall flagpole. Throughout Pride Month, the flag flew just below the American flag in a symbol of LGBTQ+ pride, unity and accomplishments.
According to Smith, the Sons of the American Legion paid for the original installation of the pole and currently maintains the responsibility for any needed maintenance. The SAL, he said, also is responsible for putting up and taking down the American flag.
“The flagpole was installed for the sole purpose of honoring and showing respect to those individuals named on the World War II monument” located at the base of the flagpole, said Smith.
“This monument honors those individuals who served our country and sadly made the ultimate sacrifice. Those heroes never returned to the town of which they were members of,” he said. “In keeping with the original intent of this pole and monument, I’m here to ask you to pass a resolution that moving forward to permit only the American flag to be flown on this dedicated flagpole,” Smith told council.
The new flag policy was developed by the council’s community outreach committee, including council members Uri Feiner and Caroline Thompson, with input from the American Legion and Mayor Chris Harding and from the flag code.
In presenting the policy for consideration, Feiner said allowing other flags to fly on the other mastheads - one located directly above the main entrance to borough hall and the other on the front of the post office - is a “reasonable and pragmatic solution” to the issue.
“We have mastheads on the borough hall where we can fly other flags. So essentially you can fly the American flag at the World War II monument and then on the other mastheads you can fly other flags whether it’s the Pride flag, Black History Month flag or the Pennsylvania flag. There are three great spots, one of them is right over the arch. It’s is a great prominent spot.”
In making the recommendation, Feiner said the new policy was drafted in fairness to everyone involved.
Feiner added that he grew up in New York City in the shadow of the Stonewall riots and has a sensibility toward LGTBQ issues. “I have gay family members. I also have family members who are veterans ... Yardley has a long history of race tolerance, inclusiveness and freedom whether you look at it being a stop on the Underground Railroad, our Quaker roots and our veterans who fought for freedom.”
Councilwoman Kim Segal-Morris liked the compromise and the idea that flags could be flown for a longer period of time and in a more visible location over the main entrance to borough hall.
Caroline Thompson, who was part of the conversation that led to the development of the resolution, said it was a productive and respectful process, but said she was concerned about the formality of a resolution in that it would be acknowledging what Council did in June by flying the pride flag was incorrect or wrong.
“With that being said, I do think the other flag posts are more visible, however people sitting up here must be the ones who decide each year what they want to fly and when so it’s not going to be an ongoing issue.”
For Bria, who stood with pride just a few months earlier as the pride flag was raised for the first time over borough hall, the discussion was deeply personal.
“The timing of this is probably a little more than just suspect. I think it’s directly reactionary to the fact that we flew a flag, and particularly a pride flag,” he said. “As I thought about this, what really came to mind is how dangerous the precedent in this country is of saying you are welcome, but you need to go over there to do it.
“There’s a lot of debate about this flagpole,” he continued. “Is it a war memorial? Is it the flagpole of a government building, which is what I always believed it to be and how the public largely perceives it to be? But I have concerns about this idea that, ‘Hey, we accept you. Yes, we celebrate diversity. Yes, we celebrate these communities. Just not here. Just not on this spot.
“The American Flag is a complicated thing for a lot of people,” said Bria. “For me, the symbolism of flying a pride flag underneath the American flag at a government building is to say, ‘Hey, we’re finally getting to a point where equality exists.’ We’re getting there. We’re not there yet. LGBTQ people don’t have full equality under federal or state law.
“A resolution like this that is a reaction to flying a flag for Pride Month carries its own symbolism, carries its own meaning,” said Bria. “I don’t think it was intended by the people who authored it or asked for it, and yet it’s there.”
During public comment, Commander Smith said the request by the Legion was not reactionary to the flying of the Pride flag.
“That’s not why we came here,” he said. “This is about veterans who served their country and died and who were members of this community and never got to come home. That flagpole was installed there out of respect for those individuals whose names are on that monument below that flagpole. That’s purely what it’s about. That’s it.”
Mayor Chris Harding added, “I am for inclusion. As mayor, I have conducted all types of wedding ceremonies. But Ted comes here tonight not as Ted Smith, but on behalf of the entire American Legion Post. And these are the men and women who were willing and did die for our right to fly all different types of flags. If they come to us and say, ‘We are asking for this on this particular flagpole,’ I tend to say, ‘I get that.’ I don’t see it as reactionary.
“To me, I truly believe it’s them saying this monument is special to them for the people who laid down their lives and they are asking us to respect that, just as that desire for respect is at the core of other flags, like the pride flag, that we’re talking about flying.”
Voting in favor of the resolution were Uri Feiner, Kim Segal-Morris and Matt Curtin. Voting against were Council President David Bria and councilwoman Caroline Thompson. Not in attendance were John McCann and David Ross.