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Will McHenry County recognize Pride Month this year? Maybe not

For the first time in at least two years, the rainbow pride flag may not fly at the McHenry County administrative building to mark Pride Month.

Some Democratic members had sought to introduce a measure that called for June to be recognized as Pride Month in support of the LGBTQ community, and as part of a compromise agreed to not include language that would allow the flag to fly on county government buildings.

Neither permission to fly the flag nor the proclamation are on Tuesday’s agenda.

Last year, County Board member Jeff Thorsen, R-Crystal Lake, had introduced a resolution that would have limited the flags allowed to be displayed at county buildings to five flags: the American flag, state of Illinois flag, county flag, National League of POW/MIA Families flag and Military Order of the Purple Heart flag.

That resolution failed.

The lack of a policy is the concern, County Board Chairman Mike Buehler, R-Crystal Lake, said in a statement Sunday. It could set the county for legal problems if it allows one flag but not another.

Buehler also cited a recent federal Supreme Court decision earlier this month, Shurtleff v. Boston, which saw an organization attempt to fly a Christian flag on one of the city’s flagpoles as part of an event.

The city of Boston rejected the request, saying it would contradict the clause in the Constitution that prohibits the establishment of a state religion. After several lower courts sided with city, the Supreme Court sided unanimously with Harold Shurtleff, saying it was a violation of his First Amendment right to deny his request.

“It would be irresponsible to place the county or individual board members at risk of civil proceedings,” Buehler said in a statement. “Until these issues are resolved, the proclamation will not move forward.”

County Board member John Collins, D-Crystal Lake, who originally proposed the proclamation, said he understood the need for the county to review what the recent Supreme Court decision could mean for the county, which is why his request was just for the proclamation.

And heading into the Committee of the Whole meeting last week, Collins said he thought the issue had been sorted out as guarantees had been made that the board’s Democratic members would not request an amendment to fly the Pride flag on county buildings.

But that’s not what Buehler said he heard.

Buehler also said proclamations like this are not typically brought forward until the month of, meaning traditionally it would appear on next month’s agenda. In both 2020 and 2021, resolutions to recognize June as Pride Month and fly the flag were approved at the board’s June meeting.

Collins said he requested the proclamation be on the board’s May agenda because next month’s meeting isn’t scheduled until June 21, making the recognition only valid for a little more than a week, he said.

“I think this hurts the trust between Republicans and Democrats on the board,” he said. “They’ve given us this item to talk about for [the next month].”

County Board member Joseph Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake, said he hasn’t been involved in any discussion surrounding the item. Still, he said, he would support a proclamation to recognize June as Pride Month, but said he understands the trepidation around the flag issue given the recent legal decision.

“The chairman of the board gets to decide what goes on the agenda,” he said. “It’s that simple.”