Proposed McHenry County flag policy including limits on pride flag set for final vote

The policy would allow the county to fly five flags, with others, including the pride flag, to require additional approval

A final vote before the McHenry County Board is set for Tuesday on a proposal to limit which flags can fly over McHenry County government buildings, an idea several board members see as targeting the gay pride flag.

The proposed policy put forth by County Board member Jeffrey Thorsen, R-Crystal Lake, would create an official flag policy for the county, limiting the flags that can fly over government buildings to the American, state of Illinois, POW/MIA, McHenry County government and Purple Heart flags.

The county currently does not have a policy on flags, which Thorsen said is necessary for the county to have when groups come to the board with a request to fly a flag for a special occasion. Many board members did not buy Thorsen’s reasoning at Thursday’s Committee of the Whole meeting, however.

“I am the only LGBTQ member of this board,” said board member Jessica Phillips, D-Crystal Lake. “You’re excluding us and telling us we are not equal and not a part of this community.”

Thorsen and supporters of the policy said the resolution does not target any specific flag or community.

“We choose winners and losers with no policy,” said board member Jim Kearns, R-Huntley, who supports the proposal and noted that his brother was gay. “That to me is dangerous to our future. You’re always choosing and dividing. If you have a policy written, then you make that choice.”

The board unanimously approved a resolution in 2019 to fly the pride flag in June during pride month. Some board members see the timing of the resolution, which was introduced before committees in July, as evidence the policy aims to target the pride flag.

“There’s no way around this. It is directly because that pride flag was being flown,” Phillips said.

Thorsen said handling the issue now, at a time when the county is not flying any special flags, makes the timing of the resolution “neutral.” He said the goal of his resolution was to bring the issue of which flags the county flies up for discussion.

“Personally, I just wanted to get the discussion elevated to the board level, and we’re here, so I feel I succeeded,” Thorsen said.

The resolution in its current form would not prohibit the board from passing future resolutions authorizing other flags to be flown, including the pride flag. This led several members to wonder what the point of creating a flag policy was when the current way of handling flag requests is already to put forth and debate a resolution.

“If it doesn’t stop us from resolving to put up the pride flag next June, what is it doing?” asked board member Theresa Meshes, D-Fox River Grove.

Board Member Tanya Jindrich, D-Crystal Lake, asked Chairman Mike Buehler whether the County Board can “just add the pride flag to it if we all agreed just a couple of months ago on it,” to which Buehler responded motions to amend the resolution can be brought forward at any time.

The possibility of changes to the resolution leaves what board members will vote on Tuesday in question.

Ten of the board’s 24 members expressed their opposition to the resolution during Thursday’s committee meeting, with several calling for amendments to the resolution, including changes that would add the pride flag as an approved flag or clarification that allows board members to propose additional flags in the future.

However, board member Kelli Wegener, D-Crystal Lake, noted that she tried making an amendment during a committee last week that would allow the board to add flags through resolutions, an idea many on the full board said was worth discussion. Her motion in committee was shot down.

“We should just pull this from Tuesday because to create a policy for the sake of saying we created a policy doesn’t make any sense to me,” Wegener said.

Board members said they have heard various opinions from residents on the pride flag. Thorsen said many believed displaying the flag was political and had concerns about the precedent it set for other flags.

Phillips said she was aware of people who did not like seeing the pride flag displayed, but has since heard from other residents voicing concerns that the county would be viewed as an unwelcoming place should Thorsen’s resolution pass.

Only one resident voiced their opinion at Thursday’s meeting.

“Flying a [pride] flag over government buildings for a few weeks every year is not only appropriate, but is important. I would hate to see a few loud voices rid [us] of this essential message,” McHenry County resident Kathy Johnson said.

Johnson said the board should focus on more important issues and not a flag policy.

The proposed policy will go before the full County Board on Tuesday for a final vote. Board members can make a motion to amend the resolution before it is voted on, however.