The Heber City Council voted unanimously to adopt a new street banner policy at its Tuesday meeting after the city was accused of taking sides on a political issue when LGBTQ pride banners were flown on Heber’s Main Street the last two summers.
The ordinance sets new regulations for what can and can’t be displayed on street banners flown throughout the city.
Heber came under fire during last June, Pride Month, after rainbow-colored banners that read “Pride in the Wasatch Back” flew down Heber’s Main Street. LGBTQ pride banners also flew on Heber’s Main Street this June and the city faced accusations of taking sides on what a number of citizens consider to be a controversial political issue.
Following the backlash and requests for a number of banners in response to the pride message, the Heber City Council began the process of reevaluating the city’s banner policy at the end of 2019. The council hoped to further clarify the language around what the city will allow to be on the banners and determine whether or not street banners are part of a public forum for free speech.
As was the case at many of the other city council meetings addressing Heber’s banner policy, public comment was almost entirely focused on the pride banners in particular on Tuesday. While the pride banners were what drew attention to Heber’s banner policy, City Councilmember Mike Johnston said this ordinance is not because the banners nor an effort to prevent them from ever being flown in Heber in the future.
“The overriding premise on this was not because of the actual pride banners and pride flags, which I quite enjoy,” Johnston said. “It was the ugly response to them. We don’t actually have a way to prevent the ugliness and the reply banners that were offered in response to the pride banners. We really feel that we need to come together and put something in place that pulls this back into the government speech rather than private speech. I do want to make it clear that I do not feel like I’m voting for an ordinance because of the pride banners. It’s actually because of the ugly reply to the pride banners and the things that that is bringing forward.”
The adopted ordinance states street banners are not part of a public forum and can be regulated by the city. Street banners are now restricted to the promotion of federal and state holidays, as well as events and messages sponsored by Heber City, Wasatch County, or the Heber Valley Chamber of Commerce that are deemed not for profit and non-political.
City Attorney Mark Smedley did say the language of the ordinance does allow for some wiggle room. He said if the city, county, or chamber of commerce wanted to sponsor an LGBTQ event or something similar in the future and promote it on street banners, the city council now has the authority to do so.
“I want it to be clear that we didn’t write this, none of us, to specifically exclude pride banners or those types of things,” Smedley said. “We wanted some guidance in there and so, if, hypothetically, the city wanted that to be government speech, hypothetically, they could come and do it. I think there’s language that says if the city or the county or the Heber Valley Chamber wanted to sponsor an event or fund an event, that does open it up.”
The Heber City Council passed the banner ordinance with a 5-0 vote. The full ordinance can be found here.