Darien postpones flag policy, which had ‘nothing to do’ with Pride, first selectman says

Photo of Verónica Del Valle

DARIEN — There were no open seats among the public when the Darien Board of Selectmen gathered to debate proposed changes to town flag ordinances.

One after another, attendees walked up to the podium Monday night and decried a draft policy from the town that would bar all non-governmental flags from flying on town property. In the public’s eye, the draft unjustly targeted the local LGBT community.

After the avalanche of comments, First Selectman Monica McNally turned to her microphone.

“I appreciate all of the Pride people coming out tonight and joining this discussion, but this really has nothing to do with the Pride flag,” McNally told the crowd.

Though several members of the public — including Board of Finance member David Martin and Darien Pride chair Dan Guller — stood up to protest the town’s draft ordinance in the name of inclusivity, McNally aggressively rebuffed suggestions that the draft was meant to bar Pride imagery.

State Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said as much to Hearst Connecticut Media Group, and multiple speakers repeated Duff’s allegation. The Pride colors flew most often in Darien, they said. What else could the policy be about?

Every speaker during the public comment session spoke out against the draft — which would permit only the United States flag, the Connecticut flag and the Darien flag on town buildings and land. Many residents invoked the newly approved town “community values statement,” a document that claims Darien’s “sense of community is rooted in residents who respect one another, welcome diversity in all facets of life, and are engaged in our larger society.”

This was the town that pledged inclusivity, Guller pointed out. This was the town that celebrated Pride Month for the first time this June.

“So, who are we, Darien?” Guller asked.

Darien Democratic Town Committee member Abigail Hornstein took it further and said the rule would “undermine” the American dream.

However, McNally presented a counter-narrative during the Board of Selectmen’s formal discussions. The town’s flag policy did not stem from the Pride flag or from any complaints related to it, she claimed. Instead, it all started with Ukraine.

After Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, a Darien resident asked town hall if they would raise the blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag in solidarity. McNally said she wrote her fellow selectmen an email on March 4 letting them know about the request.

The draft policy followed suit.

“I don’t want to sit in the First Selectman’s office and make this decision on my own,” McNally said. “I want to have a flag policy that’s generated by our Board of Selectmen.”

Though the request prompted the city’s policy, it wasn’t the only factor. McNally and town attorney Wayne Fox also pointed to a 2022 Supreme Court decision that dinged the city of Boston for its flag-raising protocols, or lack thereof.

Boston officials turned down a request to fly a Christian flag in front of city hall, though it had allowed similar displays from other private groups. Before the group that sued, the town had never rejected another request and had no written policy to guide their decisions.

“The Supreme Court is not saying that there is a problem with the expression of flags: What they’re saying is the city of Boston did not take enough care in creating their policy,” selectman Michael Burke explained.

Darien would not be Boston, McNally said, and it would write rules accordingly. She repeated that the publicly available language was only a draft and would change in response to research from Fox. In fact, the draft language was based on similar rules from other municipalities.

Following McNally’s revelation — and an assurance the board would revisit the topic in the future — the selectmen voted unanimously to table the discussion.

All at once, the tension in the room diffused. People grew restless in their seats.

Before she could even finish thanking the selectmen, the entire room of attendees got up and left.