The city of Roanoke has told local Pride event organizers they cannot fly a rainbow flag in a local public park during their annual event next month.
But the story of a rainbow flag flying over the Star City is a bit more complicated than that.
This year, Roanoke Pride has asked for the 7×13 ft. rainbow flag to fly alongside or in place of the American flag in Elmwood park during the LGBTQ event held Sept. 12-13th. That request was denied, but the inception of the request stems from last year when Pride organizers claim they were offered the chance to fly the flag.
“When our meetings began with the City in the Spring of 2014, we asked to do something special to designate Pride Weekend on our 25th Anniversary,” said Jason M. Gilmore, President of Roanoke Pride, in an email. “This included a number of ideas: A Rainbow crosswalk entrance… a building like the Wells Fargo building lit up in multiple rainbow like colors… Flags down Jefferson and Bullitt Avenues… after a lot of discussion in meetings, officials with the CITY came forth with the idea in our meetings of raising the Pride Flag on the main flagpole in Elmwood Park for our weekend. We gladly accepted such.”
In August of 2014, Gilmore got an email from the city confirming their plans to raise the flag. (pictured below)
2014 was looking to be a banner year for Roanoke’s Pride event, but about two days before the flag was supposed to be erected, Gilmore got a call from the city.
“It wasn’t until Thursday evening, September 4, 2014, at about 8pm, when I was asked to take a conference call from the City [saying] that the flag raising was pulled,” he said.
According to Gilmore, city officials told him”Veterans Groups” had caught wind of the flag raising and took issue with the use of the flag pole.
“I personally take offense to the Veterans Group element because I have friends who are currently serving our Armed Forces and who are Veterans who are a part of the LGBT Community,” he said.
“Never was [that] reason given then or in meetings this year as the only flag ever flown there was the US Flag.” said Gilmore about last year’s denial.
“When we inquired in person about such we were simply told it was a dead issue and to move on,” said Gilmore about this year’s pursuit. “Nothing else has ever been offered by the City last year or this year.”
“All we asked for then and all we have ASKED for now is something to symbolize a new element of our weekend,” he said. “We weren’t asking for beyond equal anything- and we weren’t the ones who came up with the idea to use the main flag pole to start with. The CITY DID.”
“That’s the only flag that’s ever going to fly on that flagpole,” Assistant Roanoke City Manager Brian Townsend told Roanoke.com about attempts to raise the flag this year. The flag pole was first erected on Flag Day in 1914 and the city said it’s only ever flown the American Flag since. ”And anyone else that ever asks, that’s going to be the answer.”
(Attempts by GayRVA to reach Roanoke City officials were not returned by press time, but this story will be updated after that contact has been made)
“We understand and respect the 104 year tradition of the main flag pole in Elmwood Park,” said Gilmore, but he stressed the issues he was facing now, and the backlash from the community his group has faced since Roanoke.com broke the story, is about something more than just raising a flag.
“We do not respect the way the City has handled and is handling this as well as not helping seek resolutions or accepting our offer of help in reaching resolution which would not only benefit our organization, but individuals, groups and organizations throughout this area year round,” he said.
Comments on the Roanoke.com story show a less official form of dissent against the flag.
Cliff Carter, of Unionville, VA, a small rural town about two hours from Roanoke, said “The gays have taken a besutiful [sic] symbol of God and made it ugly.”
Patrick Sims, a resident of Roanoke, agreed with Carter saying it “Seems like making a big stink until they get their way is normal ops [sic] for the gay community.”
Last year’s request was met with a kind of compromise – the City allowed rainbow flags to fly above the amphitheater stage with additional smaller flags attached to light poles and places around the park.
“We offered to investigate buying or securing a donation for a separate Flag Pole to be erected elsewhere in Elmwood Park to be used by ALL ORGANIZATIONS WHICH RENT THE FACILITY throughout the year for their group’s flags,” he said. “We were told Roanoke City Council would have to approve such a donation and since then the City has not helped or followed up with anything to implement such.”
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