Select Board green-lights raising of Pride flag in Monument Square

June 18, 2024

By Celeste Katz Marston —

Old Glory will have some new company in the skies over Concord Center on Saturday.

The Select Board’s Monday approval of raising the Pride flag this weekend came as the town marks its first formal observance of a month dedicated to displaying support for the LGBTQIA+ community.

The Concord vote came after a two-week delay — and with at least one apology. 

“Whether it was intended or not, I feel like we may have really disturbed some members of our community by suggesting [we] had anything other than complete support for the Pridefest,” said Select Board Clerk Mark Howell. 

“I think it’s very important that we move ahead with this, and I am apologetic about the level [of] discomfort and pain that I think we may have caused by delaying this.”

Two weeks earlier, the board had unanimously approved a proclamation celebrating the town’s Pride celebrations. 

Separately, three of five members — Select Board Chair Mary Hartman and members Terri Ackerman and Cameron McKennitt — had voted to table a request from the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Commission to raise the Pride flag in Monument Square. Howell and member Wendy Rovelli voted to approve it.

Those who voted to wait said they wanted more time to mull whether saying yes could open the door to future requests the town might not want to give air time, so to speak. 

‘Unintended consequences’

Before Monday’s vote, Hartman said she would ask Rovelli and McKennitt to research a potential update of Concord’s flag rules. 

“The policy that we have on the books right now gives the Select Board complete discretion on whether to fly the flag or not,” Hartman said.

“Having said that, I find that policy to be ambiguous. I find it to be vague, and I think it exposes us to some unintended consequences.”

Illustration by Peter Farago

Hartman specifically pointed to a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court: “It cost the city of Boston millions of dollars, and I would like to avoid that if at all possible.”

In 2022, the high court unanimously ruled Boston had violated the Constitution by refusing to raise a cross-emblazoned flag at City Hall. Before nixing that particular banner, the city had approved 284 flag requests without comment on any message they sent. 

Boston ultimately settled for more than $2 million.

A mother speaks

Monday evening, Jennifer Kelly of Main Street introduced herself to the board as a licensed attorney and the mother of two children who identify as LBGTQIA. 

She said Concord’s current flag policy is in line with the Supreme Court decision and “allows you to execute your decision as our town government to support the civil rights of all the people in this town.”

Kelly, who also said she appreciated Howell’s comments, said “it’s a really tough time to be part of this community in our country. 

“If you’re not close to someone who’s in this world, you might not know that,” she said. “To let our town flagpole show this government supports these members of our community is really tremendously important to me, my family, and many.”

The lobby of the Town House earlier in June. Photo by Celeste Katz Marston

Another resident who weighed in, Pamela Dritt of Concord Greene, questioned whether the elected officials might be “preparing for a problem that wouldn’t actually occur.”

Said Dritt, “if there ever came to be a group [like] the Ku Klux Klan who wanted to fly a flag, [you] would easily be able to use your discretion to say, ‘No, we don’t choose to give you permission.’”

The Select Board, which recently updated its policy on online posting of correspondence, received a sheaf of emails on the Pride flag issue prior to the vote. Most of the writers advocated for approving the flag request. 

Looking ahead

Ahead of Monday’s vote, McKennitt noted some towns are trying to skirt a flag controversy with a “fully restrictive” policy that limits the use of municipal poles to “the state flag, the U.S. flag, and really not much else.” 

Others, he said, have tried “to be more general [and] found themselves going, ‘Oh, this is really hard,’ [and] made a decision to sort of pull back.”

The Select Board’s move to approve a Pride flag raising while still reserving the right to update the policy going ahead is “probably the most important thing because as it currently sits, it does [create] a lot of potential unintended consequences,” he said.

Later Monday evening, Kelly, who spoke about her kids at the meeting, told The Concord Bridge she felt the Select Board “did the right thing [and] sent a clear message to citizens of our town and other communities that equality for all is valued here. 

“Our forebears would be pleased,” she said.