The City Council in Heber City, Utah, has approved limitations on what banners can be hung on city-owned light and street posts after receiving complaints about LGBTQ+ Pride flags.
People in and around the town of 16,000 have called the flags "odd," "political," and "disturbing," The Salt Lake Tribune reports, and wondered if allowing Pride flags would mean the city would have to allow Nazi or Confederate flags -- which no one has tried to display. The outcry led the council to consider the ordinance, which it adopted unanimously Tuesday.
Now only the Heber City and Wasatch County governments and the Heber Valley Chamber of Commerce may sponsor banner displays, and they must be approved by the city manager. Those rejected may appeal to the City Council. Any events promoted must be nonprofit and nonpolitical, and no political messages of any kind will be allowed. The Pride banners had been funded by private donations.
"The recent banners on Main Street [hung for Pride Month in June] are an endorsement of the city of a political view," said Nelda McAllister, a Heber City resident who testified in support of the ordinance, according to the Tribune. "We appreciate all of our good neighbors hoping to build a kinder and safer place where we can live the dream of the West of a space for yourself, of living your own values and of your own industry."
City Council member Mike Johnston said he did not object to Pride flags but worried they would draw an "ugly response." "That's what really bothers me," he said. "We don't actually have a way to prevent the ugliness."
The one person who testified against the ordinance was Ben Belnap, who has a gay son and was relieved to see the Pride banners. The family moved to Heber City three years ago and had concerns about attitudes there, but the Pride flags were a source of comfort.
He pointed out that LGBTQ+ people often "feel ashamed and worthless for being who they are," and he asked those who were disturbed by the banners, "Would you truly want to trade your discomfort for theirs?"
Mayor Kelleen Potter, whose own son came out 10 years ago, called the flags "a beautiful opportunity to express acceptance and a welcoming tone" in an interview with the Tribune. But she was too worn down by public pressure to oppose the council on the ordinance, she said.
Heber City resident Allison Phillips Belnap (no relation to Ben), who had raised funds for the Pride banners, said the ordinance "feels like a slap in the face to the LGBTQ community of Utah." The idea that anyone would try to display a hateful message was purely hypothetical, she said, and the council's action "came as a direct result of the Pride banners being hung." The message is not political but simply one of acceptance, she added.
She said she wants to organize a Pride event in the city and hopes to get the city government's sponsorship. Potter said that is unlikely, but she would try to support the LGBTQ+ community in other ways.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah expressed disappointment at the ordinance. "Whether or not this action complied with the letter of the law, the spirit of our Constitution calls for more speech, not less," legal director John Mejia told the Tribune.