McHenry County Board faces some public, Democratic criticism over decision not to recognize Pride Month

Democratic members tried to put the proclamation on the agenda at the meeting, but were unable to due to Open Meetings Act laws

McHenry County raised the gay pride flag June 16 at its administrative building in Woodstock after the McHenry County Board proclaimed June as LGBTQIA Pride Month, it announced on Facebook that day.

Despite efforts from its Democratic members and some criticism from the public, the McHenry County Board did not consider a proclamation at its meeting Tuesday that would have recognized June as Pride Month.

While the proclamation may be approved at the board’s June 21 meeting, some Democratic members expressed concern that would come too late, with recognition lasting just a little more than a week.

Resident Jack Popovich, who identified himself as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, was one of six people to criticize the decision not to vote on the proclamation and the explanation County Board Chairman Mike Buehler had provided for the decision during the meeting’s public comment period.

“I demand that McHenry County consider this resolution, else it will broadcast that it does not want these communities here, which would be a travesty considering the attack that queer people are under across the nation,” Popovich said.

Buehler, R-Crystal Lake, had raised concerns ahead of the Tuesday meeting that Democrats would push for the rainbow pride flag to flown at county government buildings if the proclamation was on the agenda.

He pointed to the recent Supreme Court decision, 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 court sided unanimously with Harold Shurtleff, saying it was a violation of his First Amendment rights to deny the request.

The county currently is reviewing how that decision could affect any flag policy or approvals for special interest groups, Buehler said Tuesday.

Last year, the County Board considered a resolution for a flag policy, but tabled the item for up to 100 years, reserving the option to bring it back when it pleases.

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

County Board member John Collins, D-Crystal Lake, sought to have the item added to the agenda during the meeting, a request denied by Buehler.

“You can’t add something to the agenda that we’d be voting on,” said County Board member Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake. “It’s a violation of the Open Meetings Act.”

In past years, the board has recognized June as Pride Month, albeit typically during the board’s June meetings. In addition, the pride flag has flown on county government buildings for at least two years.

Former McHenry County Board member Jessica Phillips, who was the County Board’s first openly gay member, called passing the proclamation “common sense.”

“[Pride Month] is nationally recognized in this country,” Phillips said, addressing Buehler, “You, sir, are making a poor choice to lean toward discriminatory action against a portion of this county.”

Each of the County Board’s Democratic members also spoke, with many expressing support for the LGBTQ+ community and saying Buehler broke the trust of the board.

“I feel sadness for me, my fellow board members, the LGBTQIA+ community, and the rest of McHenry County for the trust that has been lost,” Collins said, a sentiment echoed by County Board member Paula Yensen.

“The chairman has reneged on his promise,” she said. “It’s damaging to the spirit of bipartisan cooperation.”