Winter Park to change rule after request to fly "choose life" flags
Florida’s culture wars hit the city after rainbow banners on public light poles heralded Pride Month
By Beth Kassab
The city of Winter Park will no longer fly rainbow flags to mark June as Pride Month under proposed new restrictions governing banners on public light poles.
The changes, which are set to be voted on by the City Commission next week, come in response to a request from a city resident who sought to hang banners that read “Choose Life” and “Celebrate Family” with the image of a pregnant mom, a dad and two children holding hands.
Bonnie Jackson, an unsuccessful candidate for the Florida House last year, filed the application while the Pride flags were up in June 2022 and took to social media that same month to parrot the rhetoric often heard from Gov. Ron DeSantis by calling on city residents to “take a stand against the woke Winter Park City Commission and the woke Winter Park Chamber of Commerce using city property (including right outside St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church) to promote political speech.”
It was hardly a galvanizing message — it received six likes on Facebook. A video she posted the following month in which she said she she was “offended” by the Pride flags because she is Christian and called the commission “anti-Christian” received 36 reactions.
The city staff mostly ignored Jackson’s request and did not provide an answer about whether she could pay to hang her flags on city light poles as the Winter Park Pride Project had done for two years.
Jackson appeared at recent Commission meetings to demand a response. She finally got an answer this month in the form of a proposed overhaul of Winter Park’s banner program that more severely limits who can request to hang flags.
“I’m sad today this has become an issue in Winter Park,” said Thor Falk, founder of the Winter Park Pride Project, which was created to promote inclusivity by encouraging residents and businesses to hang their own rainbow flags in solidarity with the marginalized LGBTQ communities. “Having those banners actually made people from outside Winter Park look at Winter Park in a new way … I understand that some people think that being a good neighbor is political.”
According to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, demonstrations and political violence against LGBTQ people have risen to the highest level since ACLED began collecting data for the United States in 2020. Acts of political violence more than tripled in 2022 compared to 2021.
Jackson, who made her original request on the heels of DeSantis’ attack on Disney last year after the company spoke out against the law dubbed “Don’t Say Gay,” which limits what can be taught in public schools, said at a Commission meeting this month that she objected to the notion that flying the Pride flag is part of being a good neighbor.
“I fly the American flag at my house and that makes me a good neighbor to everybody,” she said. “… I resent the implication that if I don’t fly your flag I’m not a good neighbor .. the problem is that the city doesn’t want to fly my proposed banner … Are you standing here as elected representatives of the citizens saying you are anti-life? You do not celebrate family? Because that’s what I’m hearing.”
Jackson said she opposed the proposed changes to the city’s banner rules because “they are just as broad.”
“If the first one could be interpreted to put up Pride flags, well, then so could this one,” she said.
Another resident who spoke at the meeting said, “I don’t see how rainbow peacocks help promote the culture, history, health, safety and general welfare of the city of Winter Park. Do you? … This doesn’t mean anything to most of us in this room and I’m sure the peacocks are not happy about this.”
Commissioners expressed reservations about limiting the organizations that could take part in the banner program, but also noted they did not want the program used as a venue for political or ideological statements.
The proposed changes to the rules, which will be voted on at the next City Commission meeting, limit banner applicants to city-sponsored events or certain nonprofits who meet criteria for a longstanding presence in the city. The rules will allow denials to be appealed to the Commission.
The new rules are written to make clear that the public light poles are a venue for the city’s speech rather than a public forum for private speech. That distinction is important because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that said Boston was wrong to deny a group’s request to fly a “Christian flag” outside its City Hall because the flagpole had been used by other groups as a forum for private speech, which would include religious speech.
But the court’s decision also noted that Boston could change its rules going forward so that flags are limited to city-endorsed speech.
Falk said the overall response to the rainbow peacock flags was “mostly positive” and the Winter Park Pride Project will continue to promote its “good neighbor” campaign to encourage LGBTQ friends and allies to hang a Pride flag at their own home or business.
He said he is disappointed about the likely rule change not just for his organization, but for other nonprofits who now won’t be able to utilize the banners to promote their events.
“Unfortunately, the presence of our banners has resulted in a discernment process that is going to hurt all of the city,” he said, but he noted the group will continue to make inclusivity a mission this June by handing out rainbow flags to residents and businesses to display on their storefronts or patios.
“We will work harder on our flag program,” he said.
Truly sad that inclusivity of any sort has become either a political or a religious issue instead of a way-of-life commentary.
Bonnie Jackson and her willful ignorance should be ignored. She is WPs version of Marjorie Taylor Greene and that, is not a compliment.
Those were my exact thoughts. Thank you.
Sad that when a banner not liked by the Commission results in changing the rules to exclude the banner. Personally attacking Ms Jackson was unnecessary Jennifer
Jennifer said the quiet part out loud. Should we point to the hate spewed by Ms. Jackson and the groups with which she is affiliated?
Winter Park residents should show their support for inclusion by flying the rainbow flag at businesses and residences. Sad that the rules are being changed because of one person.
Thor, I hope you will offer the discontinued flags to citizens of Winter Park so we can hang them year round at our homes. I am so sick of this hatred towards my neighbors and friends. It would also be a great fundraiser for WP Pride Project. SMH.
Why is it ok to hate ANYBODY? If one doesn’t share LGBTQ views, one is a bigot, but if one is just as vehemently doesn’t share traditional family views, they’re not a bigot and it’s ok? That makes no sense! One can be a bigot whether they’re traditional or LGBTQ. That said, having an opinion is NOT bigotry! One cannot and should not police thought and opinions – it is wrong to force all people think the same, and very dangerous too – that’s how some of the worst atrocities in history happened – outlawing diversity of thought and opinion.
It was not the fact that any bigotry was displayed by the request. It was the disingenuous fashion behind the request and the fact that it is being used to score political points.
Unfortunately, due to extreme politization of the issue, ANY attempt to support a political opposite will, perforce, look “disingenuous and trying to score political points”. No matter if it come from Ms Jackson, you or me. That is the true state of affairs and it’s sad. That is why, IMO, we ALL need to back off and decide that it’s ok for all sides to be equally represented. Or, as an alternative, like some comments are suggesting, limit what is displayed on city property to city events only making sure that those events are neutral and not driven by agendas.
Who said anything about bigotry?
That’s just another term when referring to “hate towards LBGTQ [sic] community” You can substitute “LGBTQ” for any other group that is perceived, at least by some, as “marginalized”. In this sense “bigotry” and “hate towards” are interchangeable. ere’s the definition “obstinate or unreasonable attachment to a belief, opinion, or faction, in particular prejudice against a person or people on the basis of their membership of a particular group”.
I totally agree. Why fly any flags, except the American and Florida flags.
God help us!
Again the ugly head of separatism and small group partisanship rears its itself trying to convince citizens of Winter Park they are in danger of ??? if exposed to the “wrong” type of banner in our city. In my opinion, matters of public taste and preference such as this should be subject to a referendum by the voters, and not left to be legislated by a small commission with varying political leanings and interests. This referendum would be “democracy in action” on a faster track than merely imposing limits. On a constitutional level, I believe in the doctrine of separation of Church and State.
Kudos to Bonnie Jackson for speaking up for the most marginalized group in all of America. The “unborn child”
If we allow one marginalized group to be included in the flag project then we should allow all marginalized groups to be included in the flag project.
Inclusivity of all humanity is paramount.
Totally agree Mary! Very well stated! It’s ashamed that the commission decided to “throw the baby out with the bath water” versus allowing the Choose Life Flag to be hung!
Ever notice that all the people who are for abortion are here because they were not aborted? I wonder if they ever thought about that? Do you suppose they were all “planned?”
I’m about choice.
Great article and good topic to consider. I was a bit concerned with this phrase…”took to social media that same month to parrot the rhetoric often heard from Gov. Ron DeSantis…” I thought this phrase was journalistically maybe out of line. Sort of pejorative if you will using the “parrot the rhetoric”. Also I wonder if pulling DeSantis into this issue was totally necessary as well. As someone more centrist in my thinking I am very sensitive to bias in any media these days. I also can understand how someone with some views like Bonnie Jackson might be offended much like some people are offended by Confederate statues. As for a partisan politician to use something for political gain, well that is what all politicians/activists do so that does not shock me in the least. I would support the idea of having banners that are for city sponsored events as the path of least controversy or upset on people’s part.
Why was the banner put forward by Ms Jackson ignored? Also, calling her in unsuccessful candidate shows her true intention
Sorry for my fat fingers- I wanted to type: Also, calling her an unsuccessful candidate showed YOUR true intention. The city changed its policy to exclude a flag they did not support. The Commission is only supporting a small WOKE agenda. The Pride flag should have never been put up – City Events Only !
Well said! Peacock flags in the name of “inclusivity” yet flags highlighting another group of Winter Park’s citizens are frowned upon. Clearly they are politically biased.
You got it right the first time.
It’s about time the City stopped playing favorites with polarizing, anti-family messages. Grateful Bonnie Jackson stepped up. It’s about the greater good. Societies and countries that esteem the natural biological family survive and thrive. That’s being a good neighbor.
This comment pretty much sums up what is the underlying goal of these extreme conservatives. It’s quite disgusting and disturbing on so many levels.
Love is Love, my friends.
And I’ll take one of the rainbow peacock banners as well.
Inclusivity means people who support LGBTQ are included AND people who support traditional family are included. As a taxpayer I EXPRESSLY DO NOT want my tax money to be used by the city to pay for programs I do not support while the cause I do support gets rejected. The commission deciding what to display and what to reject on city property, all of which is paid for by taxpayers directly or indirectly, is discriminatory based on the commission bias – whichever way the majority of commissioners tend to lean. Voting this new regulation in will allow the commission to decide what to display on the city property and what to reject. Today the commission may lean left, tomorrow it may lean right – either way half of the community will feel disenfranchised. Not very inclusive, IMO.
What a slant, but I expect no less. The real controversy is that the city is discriminating against a “choose life celebrate family” message that fits the existing banner policy as interpreted by city staff, while approving a pro LGBTQ banner under the same policy. It is self-evident that Christians are the disenfranchised and marginalized group, whereas anyone promoting LGBTQ enjoys privilege status.
I wonder why Christians are the disenfranchised? What would Jesus do?
Jesus would tell us to love those we disagree with. Christ did not speak about social issues. Not even about the Roman’s persecution of Isreal. His message was to be in this world, but not part of it. Leading us to be at Peace with ourselves regardless of what those who are not at peace are doing.
I’ve supported the Voice since it started, but this was a disappointing article. It seemed like the writer had an agenda that didn’t involve protecting our canopy, keeping our lakes clean, and managing traffic. I’ve always valued the Voice for keeping a level head about local issues, but this was very slanted, and the personal attack against Ms. Jackson (the failed candidate), whatever you think of her politics, is rather childish.
I would love one of the peacock banners for our house as well.
I very much appreciated the informative Voice article exactly as written.
(Please do not publish my last name or email address as these MTG folk can be viscous)
In all honesty, the only vicious, remarks I saw here are some of the ones from the anti-MTG side. Politics aside, objectively – read all comments🤗 Just sayn’
Let’s just call it what it is – A hit piece on Bonnie Jackson. How dare her call out the Commission. The Commission in turn called on Beth Kassab a long-time Central Florida journalist who spent 20 years at Orlando Sentinel. Seems like maybe the Commission was a little intimidated by Ms Jackson. ( Please don’t put my last name – I might be confused with MTG- lol)
I agree with a previous post that this was a decidedly and uncharacteristically slanted article by the Voice and not in a good way. On the plus side, banners are a source of revenue for the City. On the other hand, they have become a form of visual clutter. And now, they are driving a wedge between neighbors and friends, making them no longer worth it. There is also the issue of fundamental fairness. Ms. Jackson’s message was disallowed by city gatekeepers in that her application was ignored for many months. The Pride message which staffers found to their liking was permitted. This is not okay. If an individual can take pride in sexual orientation, why not allow an individual to be pro-family or pro-life?
I think it is smart of the city to rewrite the law to distinguish between public speech and city speech. This is an important legal distinction. The only things that should be promoted on city property (such as poles) are events and activities sponsored by the city that serve all residents without showing bias, opinion or creed. Neither gay pride nor anti-abortion is appropriate city speech.
Dear neighbors, I’m reading all the comments, and I can’t help feeling that some of our comments are designed to attack the “other side”. Stop for a second, please, put on your “unbiased objective glasses” and read. Some people literally say “our way, or no way and get lost”. That’s not tremendously neighborly or inclusive. I believe as a city and a community we would want all voices to be heard and given equal representation, that is how we achieve a happy harmonious community. Telling someone “shut up, bigot” just bc you don’t like how they think/feel is not the way to approach half of our taxpayers. And please realize – it is HALF, not some meaningless small number of residents – again, read the comments. There is a reason why our community elected positions are non-partisan. Our commission and the mayor are supposed to work for the benefit of the WHOLE community, not a part of it whose political/societal view they support. This is really getting counterproductive in many ways, not to mention really divisive.
Unfortunately the change in the banner policy has missed the point.
The issue is what banners Should be hung in the City. In my opinion only banners that help to make citizens aware of Winter Park events that all citizens can attend ie: Parades, Art Festivals and Concerts. That’s not left or right and should be okay with all tax payers.
I’m pretty sure “Likes” on Facebook don’t equate to validity.
So many old sayings are no longer relevant. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Now, names will get you sued or canceled. Of course, you can assault someone and be back on the street in hours with no cash bail. Then there’s, “What’s fair for the goose is fair for the gander.” Not true today, unless you’re a gander who identifies as a goose. Selective free speech is NOT free speech.
I applaud the city commission for finding a compromise regulation that will not further divide the community. And thanks to the new editor of WPV for airing the issue.
Sounds good. But…the Commission has not acted. Not yet. We do not know what the City’s new policy will be when they are finished. Will it be a better policy or a more divisive one? Or just a constitutionally safer one for the City?
“City-endorsed speech” sounds Orwellian to me. And calling an opposing point of view “hate speech” is hateful and sanctimonious.
Bonnie Jackson, thank you for being brave enough to put a conservative “voice” out there.
Thanks Beth for the article because it has people talking about a divisive issue. Can’t wait until you write about gentrification of Winter Park’s west side. I don’t hold it against your former employment with the Sentinel.
This is why I don’t live in Winter Park
I guess Thor got what he wanted. The decision has been made to return to City Events. The wording is all that’s left. The facts are: When a group not favored by the commission requested a banner it was denied. One group was favored over another.
Was this whole thing a desire to fly one’s flag or an attempt to have another one removed? In the end, I think we will see no flags except those for city sponsored events or Rollins College. But that does not stop the businesses on Park Ave from deciding if they want flags inside their shops. One more observation-would those complaining about hate stop using hate to complain about hate!
It was an attempt at fairness, at even-handedness. Bonnie Jackson never asked to see Pride banners or any other banner removed or banned. She applied in the appropriate way to be able to display a different banner. Her request was ignored by the City for many months. A de facto denial.
So sad to listen to these bitter conversations. I’m not surprised but realize why the Commission was forced to take their stance, perhaps they felt backed up against a wall? WP committees are meant to be the eyes and ears of the Commission, perhaps it would have been better to vet the flag issue in that manner. Never the less, political correctness is here to stay so we walk on egg shells. Sending prayers for fairness and cooperation…can I do that? lol
The only banner I’d like to see —is one for the WP Library:
Welcome to WP Regional!