Arlington Heights Library board considers hoisting Pride flag next month

The Pride flag soon could fly outside the Arlington Heights Memorial Library.

Trustee Debbie Smart, who became the first openly LGBTQ person elected to public office in Arlington Heights in 2011, proposed the rainbow-colored flag be displayed for Pride Month in June.

If the library board approves, the Pride flag would be flown underneath the American flag on the lone pole outside the library's main entrance on Dunton Avenue.

"Obviously, it's a personal issue for me, but I will just say I'm just thinking about us moving forward in an accepting community," Smart said during a board discussion Wednesday night.

Smart said it's the board's role to be activists - not only for the library and community, but also for the library's employees.

"We have a sizable contingent of gay, lesbian and transgender employees at this library. I think this sends a message of welcome to them also," Smart said.

A majority of the seven-member elected panel expressed support for flying the flag, while agreeing to direct the library's attorney to draft a formal flag flying policy that legally would protect the organization. The board could take a vote on such a policy at its May 17 meeting.

But board President Greg Zyck suggested the policy not be fast-tracked just because June is Pride Month. He fears a lawsuit from groups that may seek to fly flags of their own on the library pole but are denied.

"The thing I keep coming back to is the reality of the situation," said Zyck, who added that he personally is supportive of flying the Pride flag. "What we have to make sure is we're not putting the library in any kind of crosshairs. ... The problem is that some of those people and organizations that none of us agree with most likely have representation in this community. If they have one person in this community, that is somebody that we're supposed to represent, no matter how vile we think their point of view is."

Zyck said he also doesn't want to create a situation that encourages negative behavior directed at library employees or patrons.

"Yes, we have to be activists for the library," he said. "But I want to make sure that we cannot be activists for a specific cause. Safety to me is paramount."

The discussion comes after a 2017 immigrant-rights workshop at the library was canceled over security concerns, when Smart and the library switchboard received threatening phone calls from people opposed to the event.

But Smart said library officials eventually found a way to hold that event and, for nearly a decade, the library has hosted programming in connection with Pride Month. There are about five events on the calendar this year, including a rainbow storytime for kids and "A Wider Lens" documentary series for adults.

"There's always going to be a topic, whether it's this topic or another topic, where people aren't going to agree, but you just don't shy away from moving forward on something because of the potential thought on something," Smart said.

The library board's discussion this week also follows a 2021 debate by the village board that resulted in the rejection of the Pride flag on property owned, leased or controlled by the village. The board voted 5-3 to limit the flying of flags at those sites - which would not include the library - to the official flags of the U.S., Illinois, the village and National League of Families POW/MIA.

Village Trustee Nicolle Grasse called on her colleagues in February to revisit the flag ordinance, though the issue has yet to come back to the board for public discussion.

At this week's library board meeting, Trustee Amy Somary suggested the library flag policy incorporate Grasse's earlier proposal that flags that have been recognized and flown by the federal and state governments, including the Pride flag, be allowed.

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Debbie Smart
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