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Queer love conquers City Hall: Newcastle raises Pride flag after strong opposition

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Newcastle's city council voted against raising the Pride flag earlier this month, whereupon several councilmembers and numerous community members — including LGBTQ+ youth and allies — pushed back against the decision. While they were met with intimidation tactics by those who were against the Pride flag and those who cited the god of Christianity, Queer love overcame all of it: Newcastle held a Pride celebration and the flag now flies above City Hall.

"I didn't expect this to be sort of an issue that it became," Councilmember Paul Charbonneau told the SGN. "I didn't expect them to say all the things that they said."

Charbonneau presented a motion to raise the Pride flag during a city council meeting on June 4. It was something the city had done for the past three years, and he wanted the city to take action to show residents that Newcastle is a welcoming community.

At that meeting, Mayor Robert Clark said the American flag, which already flies above City Hall, is the most unifying symbol in the world.

"That's diverse enough for me. That includes everybody in the community. There's no bodies left out under the American flag," said Mayor Clark. "If we raise flags, we've got to raise everyone's flag. What, are we going to raise Hamas's flag in the city of Newcastle — or [the] MAGA flag? How about a Trump flag or an Antifa flag?"

Clark added how raising the Pride flag would divide the community, since there are people who are against it.

"They don't speak up, because their house will be firebombed or something. Why should we exclude those people who don't want to see a certain thing?" Clark asked.

Mayor Clark texts Charbonneau
Councilmember Charbonneau created a Facebook post following the June 4 meeting that stated his disappointment regarding the Pride flag decision. Mayor Clark reached out to him via text message and asked for him to remove the post, or add a disclaimer that it was Charbonneau's opinion, not that of the entire city council.

Courtesy of Councilmember Charbonneau / City of Newcastle  

"The[re] is no possible way to achieve unanimity on any cultural or social issue. There is no way for me to reach into indoctrinated and closed minds, so I expect backlash from some people. However, as a council member who just had a discussion on this, I would hope for more from you," Mayor Clark texted. He added that anyone may participate or celebrate any issue or cause they support.

Councilmember Charbonneau responded that he was at his day job and would review the post at a later time, and added a disclaimer on the post stating that it was his own opinion.

"It would only take a second to remove the post until you can resolve it later. That would be the ethical thing to do," Mayor Clark said.

Councilmember Charbonneau told the SGN he felt like the mayor was bullying him in an attempt to get him to remove the Facebook post in question.

Follow-up council meeting
The LGBTQ+ community and its allies turned out for a Pride celebration on June 18 — the day of another city council meeting, which was more concerning than the last.

"The anti-Pride group waited right outside City Hall, because they knew we weren't going to be there right away, and then they flooded the chambers," Councilmember Charbonneau said, who added how the group was singing hymns as he entered the building. "They [those in favor of the Pride flag] were literally booed at public comment. I have never seen or heard of that at a city meeting."

Some of those against raising the Pride flag said it isn't inclusive of all people; others said LGBTQ+ people should "surrender" to god, while another person said the flag promotes pedophilia. Shortly after public comment kicked off, Councilmember Charbonneau placed a hand-sized Pride flag in his breast shirt pocket.

"Separation of church and state is not in the Constitution. I'm tired of hearing about separation of church and state. You could speak about whatever you want, and I encourage you do that," Mayor Clark said. (The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits governments from making any law "respecting an establishment of religion.")

A courageous 11-year-old middle schooler named Rosie spoke in front of the council and the anti-Pride attendees.

"Most of my friends are Gay or Nonbinary, but they have to hide that about them, because the other students do not see Gay and Nonbinary as a good thing and say "Gay" as an insult or a joke. So, I know that raising the Pride flag will help them understand that they're not alone and that they are welcome here in Newcastle," Rosie said.

Newcastle City Council (l-r) Tom Griffin, Ariana Sherlock, Robert Clark, Sun Burford, Steve Tallman, Pratima Lakhotia, Paul Charbonneau  

Reversing the vote
The city council chose to revote on raising the Pride flag at the June 18 meeting. Councilmember Pratima Lakhotia flipped her vote to join Charbonneau and Councilmembers Sun Burford and Ariana Sherlock in support of flying the Pride flag above City Hall.

"That community is no stranger to having to fight for their rights," Charbonneau said. "I ran for office as a Gen Z person because I wanted to see change in the world, and I have a responsibility to call out lies when I see it."

Councilmember Burford replied to the SGN with words of support: "It is not just raising the Pride flag. It represents so much more than just a flag. It is symbolic of our city's acceptance of diversity and inclusivity. Raising the Pride flag is a powerful symbol of acceptance, inclusivity, and support for the LGBTQ+ community. It's a declaration that our community values diversity and stands against discrimination.

"By flying the flag, we acknowledge the struggles and triumphs of the
LGBTQ+ community and reaffirm our commitment to equality and justice.

"As a councilwoman, I will continue to advocate for the rights and dignity of all individuals. I will work tirelessly to create a safe and welcoming environment for everyone, and I will strive to ensure that our community remains a place where all people can live authentically and proudly.

"It's not just during June. Our support and solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community should never waver."

Sherlock has a child who identifies as Nonbinary, and who has expressed — alongside their friends — how important Pride month is.

"It helps them feel more safe to just walk around and be themselves. A huge part of that feeling of safety comes from non-LGBTQIA+ community members like me, who support them and show solidarity in plain sight, like flying a Pride flag and wearing a rainbow," Sherlock told the SGN.

She added that she will continue to be an ally and listen to the LGBTQ+ community, but the comments she heard during the council meeting lead her to feel like the fight is not over.

"There were a lot of hurtful things... I know some of the council members said they didn't hear anything hurtful, but it wasn't hurtful to them — that's why they didn't hear anything hurtful," Councilmember Sherlock said. "It's not about them, in my opinion."

The SGN reached out to Mayor Clark for comment: "I am very busy with my day job and will be unable to spare any time," he said.