River Pride organizer asks Clayton to rethink flag policy

The Pride flag is raised high above Frink Park during Clayton River Pride on the St. Lawrence River on June 26. The village recently banned the practice of raising non-national flags on village flagpoles, as pictured here. Kara Dry/Watertown Daily Times

CLAYTON — The village has updated its flag policy, banning all banners that aren’t national flags from its municipal flagpoles.

Mayor Norma J. Zimmer said the policy was put into place after the village heard from the American Legion that their flag policy wasn’t quite in line with flag code.

“We didn’t ever have it flying right, apparently,” she said.

The new code states that only the U.S. flag and other national flags, namely the Canadian flag, may be flown from village flagpoles. That’s more in line with U.S. Flag Code, which states that the U.S. flag should be the only flag on a pole at any given time.

Mayor Zimmer said the practice before now has been to fly the additional flag on the same pole as the U.S. flag, underneath it. The new policy only applies to village-owned flagpoles, of which there are seven or eight in total, according to the mayor.

The timing of the policy change has caused some concern, and rumors spread that the village had passed the updated flag policy in response to the River Pride event on the last weekend of June, which saw a Pride flag flown in Frink Park on the village flagpole there. It was the first time Pride was officially celebrated in the village.

The village board began reviewing the policy in May, but the board began debating a draft update on June 24, days before River Pride.

“We did allow the double-flag flying for River Pride this year, but we told them it was only for this year and things may change,” Mayor Zimmer said.

Alex Hazard, lead organizer of River Pride, said he was disappointed to learn River Pride wouldn’t be able to raise the gay pride flag at Frink Park next year. He said the 2021 event was a massive success, which connected many people with the local gay community and improved visibility tremendously, and he doesn’t want this momentary setback to dampen that memory.

“I think this is exactly why we have Pride events, to get a pulse of where we are in different communities and how far we need to go,” he said.

Mayor Zimmer said it’s the view of the village board that any flags flown on village property represent the entire village, and while the Pride flag may not have been controversial, the board wants to pre-emptively avoid more controversial matters.

“The issue is (that) you’re speaking for the whole community when you put one up on village flagpoles,” she said.

Mr. Hazard said he’s seen plenty of towns, villages and cities across New York state that have successfully managed which flags to fly on municipal property without much controversy.

“I think Clayton, New York, can do the same,” he said.

Mayor Zimmer said the village has previously faced a problem where someone flew a “social justice flag” for an undetermined issue from the flagpole at the village water plant because nothing in the village code prevented it.

“We changed the policy so there won’t be any other flags, just the American and Canadian flags on a staff on municipal property,” Mayor Zimmer said.

Mr. Hazard said he knows Clayton to be a welcoming community, and members of the village board are supportive of the LGBTQ+ community. He said he plans to meet with other members of the River Pride organizing committee to find the next venue for the event.

“I think a part of a first-year event is figuring out where to go and move forward, we just have to do that here,” he said. “We have a year to meet and figure out what the right route is.”

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I write about north country politics, Jefferson County and the northern shoreline towns of Lyme, Cape Vincent, Clayton and Alexandria Bay

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(2) comments

Carl

"That’s more in line with U.S. Flag Code, which states that the U.S. flag should be the only flag on a pole at any given time." This is totally incorrect. Please review the US Flag code and correct this article.

rdsouth

What they told us in the Army was that you can put other flags on an adjacent flagpole, provided the US flag is in the "position of honor," meaning it is at the left end of a line (as you see it while facing it) the way a squad leader is at the left end of a squad, with the others arranged in order of descending seniority. This is problematic in situations where the row of flags can be viewed from either direction, I supposed, but there's always a main direction like "from the street" as opposed to "inside the building."

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