This U.S. city won’t fly rainbow flags during Pride. Here’s why other towns could be next

The move follows a Supreme Court ruling that could impact Pride celebrations across the country

Mere days before the start of Pride month, the city of Delaware, Ohio, announced that organizers would not be permitted to fly rainbow flags on flagpoles owned by the municipal government. The move comes as the result of a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that LGBTQ2S+ activists say could lead to other cities across the country making the same decision.

In May, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the city of Boston infringed upon free speech by denying a group’s request to fly a Christian flag outside City Hall. While lower courts sided with Boston, Supreme Court justices noted that city officials had permitted 284 applications to hoist other banners in the past, usually representing other countries. The court concluded that the city could not legally stifle an action that constitutes private speech, not government speech.

In response to the ruling, Delaware announced on May 8 that it will be putting its flag program on hold—meaning that Pride flags will not be permitted to be raised during Pride month. According to a press release cited by The Buckeye Flame, an Ohio LGBTQ2S+ news outlet, the only banners that will be permitted are those “supporting veterans and city-sponsored events.”

It could take months to review Delaware’s flag policy to ensure it’s in line with the Supreme Court’s decision, per the local CBS news affiliate WBNS. The city is one of Columbus’ largest suburbs, counting more than 41,000 residents.

Local LGBTQ2S+ activists blasted the timing of the city’s decision, as the community faces an unprecedented wave of discriminatory legislation both in Ohio and throughout the country. Following the enactment of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law in March, Ohio lawmakers have proposed their own version of the legislation, which restricts discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in K-3 classrooms. Ohio’s bill would also ban addressing issues surrounding race. 

“I understand wanting to follow protocol, make sure you’re in alignment, and not get sued,” Lee Webb, co-chair of Delaware Ohio Pride, which puts on the city’s annual Pride festivities, tells Xtra. “But with the timing of this, it’s going to do a lot more hurt than good.” 

Others accused local government officials of tacitly endorsing legislative threats to LGBTQ2S+ people by curtailing expressions of support for the community.

“Officials in Delaware know that in this year when LGBTQIA+ people, particularly trans and gender nonconforming individuals, are under attack in most state legislatures in the U.S., that they are siding with hate and facism,” Dara Adkison, a board member of TransOhio, tells Xtra. “We need local governments to stand up for all of their people or step aside for those who will.”


LGBTQ2S+ advocates worry that Delaware’s dilemma could be a harbinger of things to come. In the wake of the Supreme Court decision, several cities have already announced that they will be reviewing their flag-flying policies, although apparently none have followed Delaware’s example and prohibited Pride flags for June. 

“It’s not just flying a flag—it’s so much more than that.” 

While Delaware cracks down on Pride flags, other Ohio cities are moving in the opposite direction. The Worthington City Council—which represents a Columbus suburb of the same name—plans to fly the Progress Pride Flag this month after passing an April resolution establishing flags as “government speech.” (That policy could potentially face a legal challenge in light of the Supreme Court ruling, but none have been filed yet.)

Although Pride flags won’t be permitted to be flown from city poles in Delaware, private businesses are still allowed to fly whatever banners they want. Thanks to the support of the LGBTQ2S+ businesses that partner with Delaware Ohio Pride, its official Pride parade scheduled for June 4 will not be rainbowless.

“I can’t express how grateful I am for how much support we have from them,” says Webb, noting that he was on his way to deliver the flags to businesses that had agreed to display them. “We received not a single no.”

Delaware’s Pride celebration is relatively young. Webb and his husband founded the local Pride group in 2019, and the city only started flying Pride flags last June.

“It’s not just flying a flag—it’s so much more than that,” Webb says. “It’s for that 13-year-old kid who doesn’t get support from home, who can’t be who they want to be. If they see a flag, they know that at least the community recognizes them and supports them.” 

Oliver Haug

Contributing editor Oliver Haug (they/them) is a freelance writer based in the Bay Area, California. Their work focuses on LGBTQ2S+ issues and sexual politics, and has appeared in Bitch, them, Ms and elsewhere.

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