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.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • reddit

The rainbow peacock created by the Winter Park Pride Project helped mark Pride Month in 2021 and 2022.

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.”

Proposed "Choose Life" banner
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • reddit

A proposed “Choose Life” banner is displayed at a recent Winter Park City Commission meeting.

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.

Share This