McHenry County Board to consider policy limiting types of flags, including pride flag

Supporters of the limits say the policy is not intended to target the pride flag

Flags attempt to fly on a relatively still day at the McHenry County Administrative Building on Monday, July 26, 2021 in Woodstock.

A measure limiting what flags can fly outside McHenry County government buildings is making its way through the County Board in a move supporters say is not intended to target the pride flag, but could keep it from flying during pride month in June.

At a meeting of a McHenry County Board committee Tuesday, board members approved by a 6-2 vote a resolution that would limit flag displays 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.

“There has been some push back with some flags displayed in the past and we have not had a uniform policy,” said the board member leading the resolution, Jeff Thorsen, R-Crystal Lake.

Thorsen said flying flags other than the five mentioned in the resolution is a deviation from what governments normally fly.

“I think these are the core flags that should be flown at county buildings,” said County Board member Bob Nowak, R-Algonquin.

The resolution does not make an exception for other flags that have been previously approved by the County Board, including the pride flag, which has flown over McHenry County buildings since 2019 following a unanimous vote of the board.

We raised the Pride Flag this morning after the McHenry County Board proclaimed June as LGBTQIA Pride Month. Here in McHenry County, everyone is welcome and everyone has dignity and worth. #pridemonth🌈

Posted by McHenry County Government on Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Thorsen stressed that this policy does not mean he regrets his vote allowing the pride flag to fly during the month of June, which is known as pride month.

He said the purpose of the resolution is to create a limit on what flags the county uses to limit the requests for special flags the county receives. Thorsen said the county has received other requests to fly special flags, including the Gadsden flag, which features the rattlesnake and the phrase “don’t tread on me,” as well as the Cubs W flag the team flies after wins.

Board member Kelli Wegener, D-Crystal Lake, asked to amend the resolution to include any special flags approved by a County Board resolution, but committee members rejected the idea.

“This resolution is not inclusive,” Wegener said. “It does look like this is reactionary to the pride flag. I think if we pass this, it would look like our county does not want to be inclusive of everyone.”

Wegener and board member Jessica Phillips, D-Crystal Lake, were the only two members of the committee to vote against the resolution.

“I think it’s an [insult] to me and the community I represent,” said Phillips, who is the first openly gay person elected to the McHenry County Board. “It’s a pride thing, they’re proud of being a member of the gay community, proud to have that flag flown. To see that flag flown at a government building is something I don’t quite think you guys understand.”

Thorsen insisted the resolution is not meant to leave anyone out. He argued that the five flags in the resolution are inclusive of everyone in the county.

“We want to umbrella everyone with those flags,” he said.

Other board members agreed limiting the flags to what they called “typical government flags” is the best course of action to avoid having to choose flags for some groups over others who request to have their flag flown outside county buildings.

McHenry County isn’t the only Illinois government body to consider limitations on flags on government property.

The Arlington Heights Village Board passed a resolution earlier this month limiting what kind of flags can be flown outside their government buildings to four of the five Thorsen is proposing, a policy that drew protests from residents.

Thorsen said McHenry County’s situation cannot be compared to Arlington Heights because the County Board previously approved flying the pride flag in a unanimous vote.

Pride flags outside government buildings have become more common over the last decade since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2015 same sex couples have a right to marriage.

The flag was flown over the Illinois State Capitol for the first time. Earlier this year, President Joe Biden authorized U.S. embassies to fly the pride flag as well. The pride flag also was flown for the first time for the entire month of June this year outside Daley Plaza in Chicago, which houses government offices for the city of Chicago and Cook County.

The resolution will likely appear before the full County Board at their meeting in August, but also could receive more consideration from the administrative services committee.