Will rainbows color the flag debate in Aspen?
A seemingly simple request has put the Aspen City Council at the center of Aspen’s latest community debate – over rainbow flags on Main Street.
The council is scheduled to discuss its policy on allowing the use of Main Street light poles to display flags for special events tonight.
Representatives of the Aspen Gay and Lesbian Community Fund approached the council two weeks ago with a request to fly rainbow flags, which have become a symbol of gay pride, during the 24th annual Gay Ski Week in January. The flags would be flown in combination with the flags of various countries to recognize the event’s growing international appeal, according to Jim Tomberlin, acting director of the group.
The request set off a storm of letters to the editors of local papers, both in support of and opposition to the request.
City attorney John Worcester has prepared a “confidential memo” to the council on the issue.
“It raises some legal issues that I thought they would want to hear from me [on] before we discuss it publicly,” he said Friday.
Essentially, Worcester said, the council needs to address the flag issue in general terms and not in the context of the particular request now before the city. To make a decision one way or the other based on the gay and lesbian group’s request would be discriminatory, he said.
“My hope would be that the community can debate whether we want flags on Main Street every week,” Worcester said. “Don’t let the fact that it’s a controversial group dictate the policy. That would be unfortunate.”
In the past, the city’s policy has been to keep the light poles free of special-event flags, though it has made exceptions.
When the Broncos won the Super Bowl, Broncos flags flew from the poles, though it was in conjunction with A Grassroots Experience fund-raiser that brought some of the team’s players to town.
Flags flew for the 50th anniversaries of the Aspen Institute and Aspen Music Festival, as well. Just last month, international flags and special World Cup banners decorated the poles during women’s World Cup ski racing on Aspen Mountain.
“The council has not authorized use of the poles for flags other than for these extraordinary circumstances,” Worcester said.
In the past, annual events have not received a council nod to fly flags, though World Cup racing may come close to meeting the definition of an annual happening. Aspen has locked in a spot on the race schedule for several years, but must still compete for future races, Worcester noted.
“If the council decides they want to let the poles be used every week, they need to direct staff to make a policy,” he said. “I want to suggest this issue be considered separately from whether it’s the gay and lesbian group or any other group.”
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Had Hailey Swirbul decided against going to Europe, she would not have finished with a career-best result in Friday’s World Cup opener. Yes, there was a time, and not long ago, when the U.S. ski team member and Roaring Fork Valley native questioned her desire to put on a race bib.