In Denton, a Fight is Brewing Over Pride and Juneteenth Flags

In Denton, some are calling on City Council to raise Pride and Juneteenth flags.
In Denton, some are calling on City Council to raise Pride and Juneteenth flags. Photo by Stavrialena Gontzou on Unsplash
Deb Armintor was fuming as she faced her colleagues during last Tuesday’s virtual Denton City Council meeting.

Council member Armintor had been pushing to raise flags at City Hall in honor of two June observances. The first would be the Philly Pride flag — depicting rainbow plus brown and black stripes — to celebrate members of the queer community. The second would be the Juneteenth flag, commemorating the emancipation of enslaved people.

Although Armintor’s proposal had widespread community support, she said some on the council tried “every tool in the toolbox” to stonewall her request. And with June nearly halfway over, time was running out.

“I’m just trying to play the game, and the rules of the game keep changing the closer these flags come to being a reality,” Armintor said. “And that is really frustrating to the people who I represent, and by extension, for me, too.”

Denton isn’t the only North Texas town that has considered honoring Pride Month. Recently, Dallas City Council voted to allow city facilities to fly the Pride flag in June. Two weeks ago, the Rowlett mayor issued a proclamation recognizing June as Pride Month, angering some local pastors.

Those moves come as the Republican-majority state Legislature failed to advance a swath of anti-LGBTQ+ bills during the past session. And critics are upset that Denton, which frequently bills itself as a diverse and inclusive liberal bastion, is resisting the Pride flag.

Some have argued that raising certain flags and not others — such as Confederate ones — could get the city sued, Armintor said. So, she got in touch with lawyers from the ACLU of Texas and Lambda Legal for clarification.

In a letter, the lawyers informed the council it’d be “well within its authority” to display Pride and Juneteenth flags at City Hall. They also pointed to the way Denton describes itself on its website: As a welcoming community where “you’re free to be whoever you are.”

“In keeping with this commitment to inclusion and diversity, choosing to commemorate LGBTQ Pride Month and Juneteenth by displaying these flags at City Hall is not only consistent with the City’s values but it is also consistent with the requirements of the First Amendment,” the letter read.

Kamyon Conner, a board member on the local pro-LGBTQ+ committee Pridenton, also watched the June 8 meeting with dismay.

Conner said some City Council members argued that the two flags shouldn’t be flown at the same time because they represent different communities. But as a Black queer person, she believes flying those flags shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. That line of argument also showed Conner that city officials “don’t know the history of Pride, in which Black and brown queer and trans folks began this movement.”

“This is something that I wish community members didn’t have to ask for.” – Kamyon Conner, Pridenton board member

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For years, queer community members have asked the city to pass a nondiscrimination ordinance to no avail, Conner said. The council has routinely demanded the oppressed “demonstrate the need” for such a move, putting the onus on marginalized communities to “display their trauma.”

Flying the flags would be a simple way for the city to show solidarity with marginalized communities, she added. It’s frustrating that the council is getting hung up on procedural details in an effort to “delay, delay, delay.”

“It would mean so much for the people, the queer folks of Denton and for Black folks of Denton, to see that City Council cares enough to fly these flags,” Conner said. “This is something that I wish community members didn’t have to ask for.”

Denton City Council has received a deluge of negative emails from members of local churches, Armintor said. Some argued displaying Pride and Juneteenth flags would mean the city would be obligated to fly heterosexual and white pride flags, too.

And out of all the emails disparaging the Pride Month flag, only one person stated they’d be fine with a Juneteenth one, Armintor said. “I took that to mean that this is not just about homophobia and transphobia, but it’s also about white supremacy,” she said.

Celebrated on June 19, Emancipation Day or “Juneteenth” commemorates the day in 1865 that a Union major general read an order in Galveston that all slaves were free, according to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Large celebrations on June 19 began the following year.

Last year, Denton writer Donald Norman-Cox petitioned to put a Juneteenth ceremony together and raise the flag, but was denied use of the pole. The flag-raising should occur because it also happens nationwide, and Denton should keep in step with the movement, he said.

Even if the city denies the Juneteenth flag this year, Norman-Cox said community organizers could theoretically work around it.

“If we wanted to truly have a flag-raising ceremony, we can have it regardless of what the city says because they don’t own all the poles,” he said. “We’ll just go somewhere where there are some privately owned poles, and stick that flag on the pole and be done with it.”

On Tuesday, Denton City Council will hold a discussion and give staff direction related to the two flags. But while Armintor and Mayor Pro Tem Paul Meltzer had requested a vote on the matter, she said it was somehow denied.

Flying the flags would be so validating for members of the Black and LGBTQ+ communities, Armintor said. The fact that the effort is meeting so much resistance is “disheartening,” but it also makes her more resolute to stand by Denton’s Black and queer communities.

If the flags aren’t raised this year, there’s always 2022, she said.

“I won’t back down on it,” Armintor said. “If we can’t get it this year, we will get it next year, but it will be really sad."
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Simone Carter, a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer, graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
Contact: Simone Carter