This piece originally appeared in UpriseRI and is republished with permission at Options.
Little Compton’s LGBTQ+ Coordinating Committee, organizers of the Little Compton Pride Celebration, thought the town council had approved their request to fly the pride flag over the town hall for their second annual event. In November the town council approved a Pride event for the Town Commons, with food trucks (pending licenses) and the flying of the pride flag (pending conformity with the Council’s flag policy.)
“There are plenty of people who have historically been seen as less than, or excluded or outright hurt,” said LGBTQ+ Coordinating Committee co-President and event organizer Jenna Magnuski. “For them, the United States flag isn’t a unifying flag. But if you put another flag underneath it, whether it’s for a day or a week or a month, you’re saying that the flag above this is also yours, that we see you and we value you. The pride flag enriches the meaning of the United States flag.”
The town council had unanimously approved flying the flag last year, but last year Council President Robert Mushen was absent when the vote to fly the pride flag was taken. All four of the town councilmembers, two Democrats and two Republicans, voted in favor. This year Council President Mushen was in the room and he led his fellow Republicans in voting against flying the pride flag.
See At UpriseRI: Little Compton holds first official Pride celebration
At issue, according to Council President Mushen, was the fact that instead of adopting a flag policy, the town council tabled the motion to establish one. Hence, there is no flag policy to be in conformity with. Advocates, including LGBTQ+ Coordinating Committee organizer Jenna Magnuski and Little Compton Councilmember Andrew Iriarte-Moore, counter that in absence of a new policy, the issue defaults to the Council’s previous position, approval to fly the pride flag.
You can watch the discussion here:
“I’ve heard from folks that are a little confused because we did fly the pride flag last year with the same council – nothing’s changed. People are upset about it,” said Councilmember Iriarte-Moore, interviewed by telephone. “They view the town as having the right to fly it without any legal issues.”
Though the Little Compton Town Council worked to craft a flag policy, the effort ultimately went nowhere and the issue was tabled.
“We were getting a lot of feedback from folks that on both sides, of the issue” said Councilmember Iriarte-Moore. “Some said they thought only the United States flag should be flown, period. Other people thought that we can fly whatever flags we want and it’s up to the council, which has really been the unofficial policy this whole time.”
“Given that the unofficial policy has been that the council can fly whatever flags they want, what was decided is that the Little Compton Town Council does not want to fly a pride flag, right?” asked UpriseRI.
“Exactly. Exactly right. Yes,” replied Councilmember Iriarte-Moore.
For 20 years the Little Compton Town Council has flown the Armenian Flag to mark the 1915 genocide. noted UpriseRI. Sadly, this year was the first time in 20 years the Armenian Flag was not flown at the Town Hall, noted Councilmember Iriarte-Moore.
“Our request for this June was heard on November 18th and the full event was passed – closing down one side of the commons, being able to have food trucks, all of that, including flying the flag, as long as it conformed with the licensing ordinances and whatever flag policy may be adopted in another section at the town code,” said LGBTQ+ Coordinating Committee co-President and event organizer Jenna Magnuski. “There was such a public outcry both for and against this new flag policy that ultimately Council President Mushen withdrew it from consideration. So as far as we were concerned, we conformed to the policy in that there was nothing to conform to.
“Two weeks ago or so my LGBTQ+ Coordinating Committee co-President Megan Gonzalez sent the council and the Town Administrator a message to say, ‘Hey, confirming arrangements, are we all set? Tell me who I need to get the flag to where and when,'” continued Magnuski. “That was nine days before the town council meeting. We never even got a reply from them, despite the fact that when I sent that message, I included the full town council, the town administrator and the town clerk.
Magnuski heard from Councilmember Iriarte-Moore that the issue of the pride flag was on the Town Council Agenda. She was surprised, because no one had replied to her communications or told her the issue was on the agenda. She went to the meeting in person, and can be seen, towards the end of the video, walking out of the meeting in disgust.
“During the discussion, a person directly to my left was recognized to speak,” said Magnuski. “Mr. Mushen said something back to him. I had my hand raised. They ignored me and they moved forward with the vote, despite the fact that my hand was raised, which to me is particularly egregious because their precedent is to allow the person who had made the request to speak. Sometimes they’ll even ask that person, you know, is there anything that you need to add? Is there any more information that we need? That clearly didn’t happen.”
After the vote, Council President Mushen delivered a defense of his actions in a speech tinged with white Christian nationalism.
“When we stood just a few minutes ago to pledge allegiance, we spoke of the allegiance that we are pledging to the country [and] by extension, the town,” said Council President Mushen. “And then we say, ‘under God.’ And we say that because we’re acknowledging that there’s some power that’s greater than we are that is guiding our attitudes.
“And a person is free, obviously, to say, ‘I don’t believe that,’ but that’s what we’re pledging. And then we say it’s indivisible. Nothing divides us. So it’s our obligation, it seems to me, to make sure that nothing divides us.
“Finally, it’s liberty and justice for all – not for some – it’s for all. So therefore we are saying, publicly, that’s what we believe and that’s why we believe it.”
Jenna Magnuski, no less a patriot than Council President Mushen, had a more expansive take.
“There are plenty of people who have historically been seen as less than, or excluded or outright hurt,” said Magnuski. “For them, the United States flag isn’t a unifying flag. But if you put another flag underneath it, whether it’s for a day or a week or a month, you’re saying that the flag above this is also yours, that we see you and we value you. The pride flag enriches the meaning of the United States flag.”