Woonsocket pride flag location causes controversy

WOONSOCKET, R.I. (WLNE) — For the first time in its history, the Woonsocket City Council passed a resolution to raise an official pride flag recognizing the LGBTQ community.

The flag was raised in a ceremony last week on the main flagpole in Market Square, where there’s room for only two flags — meaning the pride flag was temporarily replacing the POW-MIA flag for the month of June.

But within days, city officials moved the pride flag to a different nearby location on the side of the square.

“The POW-MIA Flag has been put back where it belongs, flying under the US Flag, after it was inappropriately removed and briefly replaced by the Pride Flag,” said City Councilor James Cournoyer.

Another city councilor says he’s disappointed by the move.

“I think this was a cold political play that appears to have been intended to pit the LGBTQIA+ and the veteran community against each other,” said City Councilor Alex Fithes.

And it’s not just a political issue. For LGBTQ veterans, it’s personal.

They understand the sacrifice symbolized by the POW-MIA flag.

“As a veteran, I’m very respectful of that,” said Ken Barber of Cranston. “My father is a Vietnam veteran, my grandfather is a veteran, so I’m very respectful of everything for veterans.”

But for LGBTQ people who served before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed, sacrificing for your country meant hiding your true identity.

“I often don’t feel accepted by the veterans because I’m gay,” he said. “And there are times that I feel like I almost have to hide being a veteran to be accepted by the LGBTQIA+ community. So that creates a personal conflict in every one of us that have served.”

The Woonsocket flag debat bringing that conflict to the forefront.

“The LGBTQ veterans are being left in the middle, feeling unrepresented, feeling that their voices are not being heard,” Barber said. “So there’s a lot there, and it’s very painful to watch.”

But he’s encouraged by a display placed anonymously in Market Square. It features 114 small pride flags, representing the roughly 114,000 known LGBTQ people discharged from the military due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

It’s a message meant for residents and politicians to see.

“It’s time for our smaller, local leaders to heal those divides,” Barber said. “It’s time for them to figure out ways to bring people together.”

Categories: News, Politics, Regional News, Rhode Island