Mayor of Connecticut town defends banning Pride flags

Republican Mayor Ken Nelson of Enfield, Conn. (Photo Credit: Ken Nelson)

ENFIELD, Conn. | A pro-LGBTQ+ rally was planned Jan. 22 on the town square of the blue collar, northern Connecticut town of Enfield, whose new mayor is defending a recent vote to reverse the existing policy allowing Pride flags on town property. 

“We’re going back to basics; that way, there is no threat of a lawsuit,” said Mayor Ken Nelson. The Republican gave an interview Monday to WTIC-TV in Hartford, Conn. as he stood beside the Town Hall flagpole flying the U.S. flag. “The greatest flag on the planet is that flag right there, and that is the most inclusive flag there is, and we respect that, and what’s great about that flag is if you disagree with me, you have a right to protest, to rally, or to leave the country.”

Advocates for the LGBTQ+ community organized the rally to protest the new policy, passed two weeks ago by the newly-elected Republican majority on the Town Council. 

At that meeting, council members voted 6-5 to pass the resolution, with all but one of the council’s Republican members voting in favor of reversing the existing policy enacted in 2022. Opponents say the resolution specifically targeted Enfield’s LGBTQ+ community and its allies.

“They just don’t want anything to do with gay pride,” Councilor at Large Cindy Mangini told reporters following the vote earlier this month. “To dismiss people’s feelings and beliefs is wrong,” she added.

Councilor At-Large Gina Cekala, who also voted against the measure, accused the Republican majority of directly targeting the LGBTQ+ community and Pride flag. “I think the real reason is you don’t want that Pride flag up on this Town Hall,” she said, “which is absolutely disgusting.”

“The way they see it as targeting, I see it as it’s a discriminatory policy allowing one group and no other. How can you say that’s not discrimination?” said Nelson. “Enfield is all-inclusive, 100 percent, and we support all groups.”

While it does not specifically mention Pride flags, the new policy prohibits any flag other than the U.S. flag, the Connecticut state flag, the MIA/ POW flag, or the flags of the military branches from being displayed or flown on town-owned buildings and flagpoles.

“This flag policy is solely about the Pride flag,” said Enfield resident Christina Tetrault, who spoke against the resolution during the Town Council meeting before the new policy was approved. “How do we know this? Because it’s been the only flag that was hung on town property outside of the normal government flags. For the past two years, there have been zero negative incidents at the raising of this flag that would even suggest you needed to take immediate action on it.”

Tom Tyler, the interim town attorney, claimed at one point during this month’s Town Council meeting that if the Pride flag was allowed to be flown, “ISIS could come in and want to display one, the IRA…basically anybody. You’d have to be content neutral and let everybody.” Tyler also accused schools of trying to indoctrinate students with “transgender ideology.”

The rally is set to take place prior to another meeting of the Town Council, and Nelson applauded those LGBTQ+ groups in Enfield that are encouraging residents to display Pride flags on their personal property. 

“Certain council members that are speaking tonight,” he told WTIC-TV, “they don’t have a Pride flag on their house, so I would say probably start with practicing what you’re trying to preach and put the flag up on your own property because everyone has a right to their opinion but the government should stay neutral,” said Nelson in the television news interview broadcast on Monday.

Republican leaders of a neighboring town, Suffield, banned Pride flags on town flagpoles in 2021, and this month proposed a slew of new regulations that critics say stifle free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment and the right to public assembly. 

“That’s hugely problematic, but also it seems very directed,” said Suffield resident Annie Hornish in public comment Wednesday before the board. “It’s directed at a certain group,” she said, meaning the LGBTQ+ community. 

“At no point does this policy infringe on any First Amendment rights. It is designed to better protect the Town and its assets. Anybody can use the Town Green. A policy would simply give guidelines for use,” said Republican First Selectman Colin Mol in an interview with the Hartford Courant.

Enfield’s Town Green Policy, which is codified in the town municipal code, served as the model for Suffield’s draft, according to Suffield Town Attorney Derek Donnelly.

Anti Bias, Anti Racist Suffield, the group that founded Suffield’s Pride event in 2021, this month launched a social media campaign to accuse the Town of Suffield of “beginning to roll-out its fascist plan to get Suffield Pride off of the town green.”

Jill Adams, the ABAR Suffield Pride organizer and a member of the ABAR board, issued a statement to the Courant: “The biggest question I had was why the green? Why now? … What is the vision here?”

“There’s an overreach here, and this is not just about Pride at all,” Adams said. “Why are we questioning using open green, clean space for people to enjoy the town, to take pictures with their family, to have a picnic, to sit with a friend, to have a conversation?”

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