LGBTQ advocates gained a victory on Tuesday following months of controversy after the Federal Way mayor declined to fly the pride flag in front of City Hall at their request in June.
In response to the request, Mayor Jim Ferrell directed city staff last month to draft a policy for the council’s consideration that would allow the city to fly special interest flags, including the pride flag, that are recognized by council proclamation.
However, at Tuesday’s meeting the council moved the issue back in front of the mayor, voting to allow Ferrell to decide whether special interest flags could fly at City Hall.
“I was moved last night,” Ferrell told the Mirror on Wednesday morning of the nearly 20 residents who passionately spoke both in favor of and in opposition to the flag flying resolution. “I will go out and buy the pride flag myself – not the city, I’ll go do that – and we’ll fly it during Pride Month. And with regard to other flag requests, I will consider them on a case-by-case basis.”
During the council meeting, 10 residents – many who identified themselves as Christians – spoke in opposition to the flag resolution.
Dana Holloway commented on how the various causes and organizations that exist “could create divisiveness within our community instead of inclusiveness” by displaying third-party flags.
Several opponents of the resolution echoed Holloway’s sentiments.
One resident urged the council to “stop pushing identity politics in our community, which will divide us,” he said amid applause as the mayor pounded his gavel. “Let’s focus our efforts and the efforts and resources that will unite us …”
Vitaliy APiekhotin, a Christian who immigrated to the U.S., shared a testimony from his childhood. He recalled how the red flag “with pressure was tied around my neck by the communist regime. I’m talking right now about the propaganda. And if we’re going to start pushing any movements, this has become propaganda.”
He urged the council to keep everyone equal and love all people.
“Let’s keep it peaceful and let’s keep it under the one flag of the United States of America,” APiekhotin said.
Six residents spoke during the meeting specifically in favor of flying the pride flag.
Ferrell told the Mirror he was especially touched by Federal Way resident Catherine North’s comments.
North spoke about what the colors of the pride flag stand for.
“The red is for life, the orange is for healing, the yellow is for the sun, the green is for nature, the blue is for harmony, the violet is for spirit,” North said. “The flag has nothing to do with hate.”
She addressed the packed council chambers that consisted of Christians, immigrants, queer advocates, transgendered, lesbians and others in the LGBTQ community.
“Some of you folks know what hate is like,” North said. “People in World War two were persecuted simply for being gay. Today in almost 2020, gay kids are thrown out of their home for being gay. The suicide rate amongst people is higher amongst the gay people. Not because they’re gay, but because of the hate they get from being gay. The Bible says love one another. And the hate and intolerance that I feel in this room tonight is palpable. You say you love, but it doesn’t feel like love to me.”
North, who will be celebrating 30 years with her wife next week, said flying the pride flag in front of City Hall would not create division, but would show some “acceptance out there to the kids that are sleeping on the street, to the person out there who hates themselves because they think it’s not OK to be gay.”
Morgan Fiskevold, a member of the LGBTQ community who moved to Federal Way a year ago, said the pride flag represents safety, visibility and feeling welcome in Federal Way.
“I just want to feel welcome here and I just want to feel safe here,” she said, pausing as she looked at the audience. “It’s hard to see your suffering dismissed as identity politics. I just want to feel safe here.”
Allison Taylor, a queer advocate, asked the mayor to fly the pride flag in June when the council recognized Pride Month for the first time in Federal Way’s history.
“That ask was about consideration for our neighbors who are marginalized and face unsafe situations every day just existing in their truth,” Taylor said during the meeting. “Neighbors who rarely socialize in our community because they don’t feel safe.”
She said she’s heard repeatedly about how the American flag represents everyone and how the queer community should respect that flag.
“Facts are facts – and not everyone feels included by the stars and stripes,” Taylor said.
During the meeting, council members Jesse Johnson and Hoang Tran questioned why the flag resolution went before the council.
“I don’t understand why we have to take action on this item,” Tran said. “ In my opinion, as the leader of the city, as the CEO of a company, the mayor has the authority and obligation to decide whether or not to fly a particular flag. That is within his authority to do so. … I would rather delegate that authority to the mayor as he is the one who is running the city on a daily basis.”
Tran made a motion to delegate the authority back to the mayor to decide whether to fly flags at City Hall, which Johnson seconded.
The council voted 6-1 in favor of the motion, with council member Martin Moore voting no. Moore said he was in favor of the flag resolution as he wanted to “uplift that marginalized voice in my community.”
The mayor told the Mirror he wanted to include the council as policy partners on this resolution and give them the option to decide “out of respect to them. They wanted to make sure that in the strong-mayor form of government that the mayor would decide such things and I’m completely comfortable with that. I think we’re better as a community for the discussion and now what we’re going to do is make sure we have internal policies in regard to how we’re going to handle these requests.”
Taylor told the Mirror on Wednesday afternoon that the mayor’s decision to fly the pride flag during Pride Month in June is a sign of progress for the Federal Way community.