Wilmette, News

Wilmette reaffirms support for Progress Pride banners after protestors confront Human Relations Commission

Wilmette’s Human Relations Commission received an earful of anti-LGBTQ+ commentary from nearly a dozen of residents opposing the Village’s plans to fly rainbow Progress Pride flags in June, which is nationally recognized as LGBTQ Pride Month.

While commissioners only spent a few minutes discussing Pride Month on March 19, members of the audience were ready to make their request for the Village to not display the flag this year, arguing a variety of reasons for their opposition.

The Human Relations Commission began discussions of this year’s Pride Month efforts on Feb. 20. The Village of Wilmette has displayed Pride banners in June for two years, last year installing them along Green Bay Road and in the Linden Square business district. Last year, the Village also had Pride-focused information at the French Market and sponsored a movie at the Wilmette Theatre.

Assistant Village Manager Erik Hallgren said at the Feb. 20 meeting that the Village received “an abundance” of positive feedback about its 2023 efforts, but this year, negative feedback has come in surrounding the banners, which he added the Village has the “firm intention” of displaying this year.

In a followup statement, Village President Senta Plunkett reiterated the Village’s commitment to its Pride program. She said the Progress Pride banners are part of the Village’s cultural heritage celebrations, which also include initiatives recognizing Black, Hispanic and other historically marginalized communities.

“We have heard from members of the community that the Village’s wide-ranging efforts to be welcoming and inclusive, including the display of Progress Pride banners, has helped them feel accepted in their own community,” Plunkett said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to promote an inclusive Wilmette and the Progress Pride banners will again be displayed during the month of June, as they have been since 2022.”

Many opponents of the Village’s Pride support expressed intolerance for the transgender community. Katie Vale, who said she’s lived in Wilmette for more than 40 years, was one of them, using the term “transgender ideology” to describe what she believes are practices that deceive individuals into becoming transgender.

In a sign the audience was on the same page, the speakers’ comments at times led to applause, which Hallgren attempted to halt.

“There are potentially other people who have differing views from others here,” he said. “We want to make sure everybody feels comfortable to speak, so we don’t want to clap.”

Hallgren’s comment was met with audience members shouting, “So what?” and “It’s ridiculous.”

“It’s a standing rule of decorum that you don’t clap on behalf of other speakers,” Hallgren continued. “It’s a conversation between the board and the individual speaking.”

Betsy Hart — who said she was speaking on behalf of the local conservative group New Trier Neighbors and acknowledged that many in the audience were members — asked the Human Relations Commission to fly religious freedom banners, a sample of which she showed and emailed Village officials, this summer. She stopped short of asking the Village to replace the Progress Pride flag but she referenced Pride in her comments and again in a followup email.

New Trier Neighbors has a history of chastising equity work from public agencies and posting anti-LGBTQ content on social media, regularly criticizing schools and public officials for showing support for the LGBTQ community. The group also attempted to get an LGBTQ book removed from New Trier High School in 2021 and railed against a “Rainbow Storytime” at the Wilmette Public Library in June 2023.

While there were no speakers on March 19 who voiced support for Progress Pride flags, several residents emailed letters to the Human Relations Commission in the days and weeks following the meeting, expressing support for both the flags and for the Village’s diversity and inclusion efforts.

Those letters were included in the packet for the HRC’s upcoming meeting on Tuesday, April 16.

The Rev. Jeff Lehn, senior pastor of Wilmette’s First Presbyterian Church, was one of the supporters of the banners.

“My faith informs my commitment to creating space for all God’s children to be who they are — to be heard and welcomed and celebrated,” he wrote in his letter, which he sent to Hallgren and Village Manager Mike Braiman.

Lisa Keipert, a 17-year Wilmette resident, also emailed a letter of support to the Village.

“You are walking the walk and showing through actions like endeavoring to hire a (diversity, equity and inclusion) consultant and displaying pride flags, that Wilmette is a community striving to be welcoming and inclusive to ALL…not just some,” she wrote. “It makes me proud to live in a village that displays compassion, decency, and courage in its convictions – even when faced with ignorance and hatred.”

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Peter Kaspari

Peter Kaspari is a blogger and a freelance reporter. A 10-year veteran of journalism, he has written for newspapers in both Iowa and Illinois, including spending multiple years covering crime and courts. Most recently, he served as the editor for The Lake Forest Leader. Peter is also a longtime resident of Wilmette and New Trier High School alumnus.

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