As national discussions of gender identity and sexual orientation continue to emerge, the city of College Park has decided to express its continued support of LGBT inclusivity.
During a May 24 meeting, the City Council voted 5-0 with three abstentions to display a pride flag — a rainbow flag symbolizing the LGBT movement — at City Hall in June, which is National Pride Month.
City Hall will hang the flag as a banner for one week starting June 6.
A few months ago, Nick Brennan, a city resident and husband of District 2 Councilman P.J. Brennan, circulated a change.org petition to present the flag at City Hall. After the petition collected about 180 signatures, P.J. Brennan brought the item up for discussion during a May 17 council work session, prompting District 3 Councilwoman Stephanie Stullich to move for a formal vote.
"The display of the pride flag is really important because our government plays a role in supporting our communities and expressing the [tenets] of our government that are captured in the charter," P.J. Brennan said.
In 2014, the city adopted language in its charter to protect and welcome "a number of diverse groups that are … residents in the city of College Park, and two of those groups dealt with sexual orientation and gender identity," P.J. Brennan added.
Nick Brennan said while the city has already shown its acceptance of the LGBT community, this flag offers "an opportunity for the city to visibly put it out there that it's a value that the city has."
Although the majority of council members approved the motion, some expressed hesitation and concerns during discussion. District 1 Councilman Fazlul Kabir, one of the three council members who abstained in the vote, suggested adopting a policy to create a process in which requests from specific groups would be approved before displaying a banner or flag.
This policy "would have addressed many concerns residents have about accommodating and being inclusive of all diverse groups, who might want to display a flag or a banner at City Hall — it felt like we put the cart before the horse," he wrote.
District 1 Councilwoman Christine Nagle and District 4 Councilwoman Mary Cook also abstained from the vote.
"The answers that were not 'yes,' I was disappointed in," P.J. Brennan said. "It is important in this particular case; it's timely, there are things happening nationally and on a local level that requires us to draw people's attention."
Jackie Pearce Garrett, a six-year resident of the city's Hollywood neighborhood, said she is "excited to get on board with this." As one of the petition's first signers, Pearce Garrett said displaying the flag is a "great idea" and "one of the many ways that we, as a city, can express our values of being a diverse community."
"I haven't experienced a lot of discrimination in my life, but the message still resonates with me very strongly," Pearce Garrett said. "It's reflective of personal values that I hold very deeply, by my parents and my community, about inclusion and acceptance. … It's part of how you treat people with respect and as human beings."
The council has not yet voted or completely discussed the flag's display as an annual event, P.J. Brennan said. However, for this year, Mayor Patrick Wojahn said flying the flag "sends a message that we are doing everything we can to be inclusive here in College Park.
"It will be a good example for the other communities; they might consider flying it as well," Wojahn said. "We welcome people … we celebrate our diversity here."
Staff writer Kimberly Escobar contributed to this report.