McHenry County Board unanimously approves Pride Month proclamation, rejects flying flag

Questions about flag being disrespectful to war memorial in front of county administration building led to board members voting it down

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.

McHenry County will recognize June as Pride Month after all, but will not fly the rainbow flag to mark the occasion.

In a special meeting Monday that was at times personal and other times contentious, the McHenry County Board unanimously approved a proclamation to recognize June as Pride Month.

Included in the resolution, which was the lone item on the agenda Monday, was a clause that would have seen the pride flag flown at county buildings, which the board voted, 13-11, to remove over concerns about the proximity to a war memorial in front of the county’s administration building.

Many board members said they worried flying a pride flag on the poles that overlook the memorial would be disrespectful.

The concern began after Wally Gullang, a member of the Huntley American Legion Post 673 and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5040 in Woodstock, spoke Monday, asking why there was interest in flying a pride flag at the memorial.

“Why can’t they put it more towards Route 47 where it would be more visible?” He asked. “By allowing this to happen today … you’re opening up Pandora’s box.”

This prompted several members throughout the meeting to ask where else the flag could be flown, as well as who owned the memorial and controls the flagpoles there.

“Do we dishonor our veterans by flying any other flag?” asked County Board member Pamela Althoff, R-McHenry. “I certainly don’t want to do that and be part of that.”

County Board member Kelli Wegener, D-Crystal Lake, said she didn’t think it was disrespectful.

“Our veterans fought and died for every single person in our community,” Wegener said. “It doesn’t matter their color, who they love, what gender they are.”

Despite concerns over the flag, no board members spoke out against the proclamation. Many gave personal stories about friends and family who were members of the LGBTQ+ community and said they wanted to make them feel included.

“My brother was gay,” County Board member Jim Kearns, R-Huntley, said. “He died of AIDS. I believe my brother is in heaven. I do not damn him to hell. I love my brother.”

County Board member Theresa Meshes, D-Fox River Grove, told a story about her cousin who asked to bring her girlfriend to a baptism party, as she was worried her family wouldn’t accept her.

“It’s not always clear to members of our community if we support them,” she said. “If you can’t trust your family to support you, you certainly can’t trust your community.”

The issue over the proclamation and flag was sparked after County Board member John Collins, D-Crystal Lake, was unsuccessful in getting it put onto the board’s agenda in May. As a result, he, along with a dozen other board members, called for a special meeting to hold a vote on the proclamation.

Concerns over a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision dealing with flags and governing bodies, Shurtleff v. Boston, led County Board Chairman Mike Buehler, R-Crystal Lake, to leave the proclamation off the May 17 agenda because of worries other members might call for flying the flag and open the county up to litigation.

This prompted several comments from the public in support of the proclamation at the meeting in May. The comments targeted both the board and Buehler specifically. Some of the comments given at Monday’s meeting had a similar tenor.

“I’m disappointed that this is the way this all had to come about,” Cathy Johnson of Marengo said. “It’s become a big brouhaha, and it didn’t need to happen.”

Board members Althoff, Carolyn Schofield, R-Crystal Lake; and Lori Parrish, R-Crystal Lake, said they were “blindsided” by the issue at the board’s meeting in May.

Schofield also took issue with the proclamation not appearing in any committees prior to Monday’s vote.

“It’s really hard to sit up here and have people yell at you for something that you haven’t done,” Schofield said. “I personally have never excluded anybody. … I’ve approved this resolution for the past two years, as actually this entire board has.”