RUTHERFORD, N.J. — A plan to fly the rainbow pride flag next month at Rutherford’s Borough Hall has stirred up controversy in the New Jersey town.
An online petition was launched and flyers have been posted calling for the municipal government to cancel its planned raising of the flag.
Sponsored by Rutherford Pride, the flag-raising ceremony at Borough Hall is scheduled for June 1, the first day of Gay Pride Month. The flag is a symbol of LGBTQ — lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer — pride.
This is first time the flag will be raised at the municipal building.
“I know this incident today may have brought up various feelings for people within our community and group,” said Rob Lyons of the group Rutherford Pride in a Facebook post.
“Ultimately, these posters have had the reverse effect, and is amplifying the support that our LGBTQ+ residents of Rutherford have from allies within our town.”.
Lyons did not respond to invitations to comment.
North Jersey towns such as Glen Rock, Westwood and Rochelle Park have flown the rainbow flag, not always without controversy.
In 2017, Ridgewood opted to fly the flag in a municipal park, after Village Attorney Matthew Rogers said that while there was nothing prohibiting Ridgewood from flying the flag at Village Hall, it could set a bad precedent, forcing the village to fly flags of other types.
In Rutherford, the online petition, created by Rutherford United, opposes the flag’s inclusion at Borough Hall, saying it will “foster division.”.
“Will the council now allow any group to repaint a crosswalk or fly a flag? Why is one group given preference over another?” The petition reads.
“Rutherford is made of many different groups and it is wrong to favor one special interest group over another or over the entire town.”.
Mayor asks: Does a pride flag set a precedent?
While there was an informal council discussion on the topic, Rutherford has no plans to paint crosswalks for Pride Month, said Mayor Joe DeSalvo. (Last year, the Essex County community of Maplewood marked the month by painting rainbow crosswalks.).
Created two weeks ago, the Rutherford United petition had 14 signatures as of Friday.
DeSalvo said the borough has not been formally presented with a petition opposing the flag-raising.
The council voted unanimously on April 8 to raise the pride flag at Borough Hall.
“Flags have meaning, especially when flags are flown by the government,” said resident Chris Moore, addressing the council in April.
“The pride flag represents positions on sexual morality, behavior and identity. These are sensitive and decisive topics in our time.”.
Moore’s comments were linked to on the Rutherford United petition. He told the council flying the flag could send a “bullying message” for institutions with different views.
“Will a pro- or anti-abortion flag be permitted to fly? Will a pro or anti-euthanasia flag be flown? Will a marijuana leaf flag be flown? Will a traditional family values flag or marriage flag receive equal time?” Asked Moore. “We all desire to live in peace with our neighbors.”.
DeSalvo recalled he had raised concerns in the past over flag-raising, including a discussion over the Ireland flag.
“My concern is with setting a precedent. If anybody comes to us, we need to raise that flag too because we’ve raised others,” said DeSalvo.
Legal experts have said towns can fly flags sending any message they want to send, but it’s a different matter when the process is opened up to members of the public.
Last fall, a Westwood anti-abortion activist asked officials to fly a “Respect Life” flag at Borough Hall, as the borough had flown the rainbow flag. The decision was postponed to give the borough time to re-examine policies.
Flyers advertising the petition went up around Rutherford overnight Tuesday into Wednesday.
‘I couldn’t believe what I was reading’
Resident Tricia Rizzuto Perrotti said she saw a flyer on a utility pole at Addison and Lincoln avenues while walking her daughter to school that morning.
“It stopped me in my tracks. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Awful and not representative of our residents,” she said.
The Republican mayor and council candidates changed their ticket’s name to Rutherford Strong so not to be associated with the petition.
“Those that insist on tying us to these hateful fliers are ignoring the fact that they are only furthering the divide the messenger wishes to create,” a joint statement by Marc Marsi, Ryan Weist and Kristina Gagliardi-Wilson read.
“Although we have firm differences in policy, we can agree that there is no place in Rutherford for this kind of hate.”.
A spokesperson for advocacy group Garden State Equality, Jon Oliveira, said Friday that “raising the Pride flag is a message to all LGBTQ people — especially our youth — that they are welcomed and have a place in our communities no matter who they are or who they love.
“The flag at its core represents compassion, diversity, and inclusion. I think it speaks volumes about the values of the few community members who find that to be a divisive message.”.
As of Friday, no one had logged complaints about the flyers to the Rutherford Police Department, said Chief John Russo. A few that were posted on public property were taken down by officers, as the borough has an ordinance against the posting of bills.