The display of pride banners along Heber's Main Street over the last two years has stirred up strong opinions both for and against the move. Heber City Council hopes to avoid some of that controversey in the future and is now considering a new banner ordinance.
When Heber City gave the go-ahead to fly rainbow colored banners with the words “Pride in the Wasatch Back” down Main Street during Pride Month last June, public reaction was mixed. Strong opinions were voiced on both sides of the issue with some praising the move by the city and others criticizing it for taking what they saw as a political stand on a controversial issue.
Heber City Council began the process of re-evaluating the city’s banner policy at the end of 2019. The current policy regarding banners concerns size, location, placement, and timing and does little to regulate the content of the banners themselves.
Pride banners were also flying in Heber this June.
On Tuesday, Heber City Council held public comment and discussion on a proposed new ordinance that would regulate what can and cannot appear on banners flown throughout the city.
The proposal would limit city banners to promote only events sponsored by the chamber of commerce or to recognize federal, state, and local holidays. The language also states that promoted events must be “non-political.”
Just like one year ago, public comment on the issue was lively. Several emails were read from the community both expressing support for and opposition to allowing pride banners to be flown in Heber.
Jim Mortensen spoke as a veteran and a father of a gay daughter to argue that pride banners are not political statements.
“If we truly believe and truly value the gay children in our community, can we not proclaim their value through a simple banner?” he asked. “Human rights are not political. These pride banners tell our children ‘you are safe here’ by emphasizing that the mighty American truth that ‘all men are created equal’ applies equally to them as well. Yea, our American heritage, our very civic duty is to stand against repression and to give voice to those without.”
Despite nearly all of the public comments on the issue centering around the appropriateness of the pride banners, Councilmember Mike Johnston said the real issue is what is and isn’t considered “political” is largely a matter of personal opinion. He says if the city does not set some sort of limit on what can and can’t go on the city’s banners, the door could be open for potentially hateful or discriminatory messaging in the future under the guise of free speech.
“My concern has never been the pride banners, in fact, I support them,” he explained. “My concern and my willingness to look into the banner policy is that we don’t really have a policy. The other point I want to point out is that defining something as ‘political’ is a matter of opinion. To me, climate change is not political, environmental protection is not political, air quality is not political, but to other people they are political. How do we define these terms and how do we avoid things that are bad and ugly? Mean-spirited, discriminatory, and ugly?”
Heber City Mayor Kelleen Potter added that when the original request for the pride banners came to her desk, there was no city ordinance or precedent in place that would have allowed her to say no. She says it’s unfortunate that the efforts by the council to better define the banner policy have been perceived as an attack on the pride banners themselves.
“I treated it like I would have treated any other civil rights banner, like a Martin Luther King,” she said. “I probably could have said no and we probably wouldn’t have gotten sued but in my heart of hearts, my integrity required me to treat them exactly the way I would have treated anyone else. I am sorry it has caused a lot of difficulty in time but I am also happy because I feel like it brought to attention some people in our community who have long felt misunderstood and excluded.”
At the end of their discussion, the council moved to further clarify the language determining which banners would be allowed and revisit the matter at the next city council meeting on August 4.
A link to the city council report on the proposed banner ordinance can be found here.