A city councilman insists his objections to raising a pride flag were purely about process, while his social media comments led to complaints from the public.
Woodinville City Council member Al Taylor questioned why the rainbow flag had been hoisted at City Hall in celebration of Pride Month without a vote or discussion at a public meeting.
“It’s all about that process of transparency and communication and not appearing to be beholden to any particular group,” Taylor said in an interview. “I don’t have a strong issue against any flag.”
However, his posts on a community Facebook page prompted concern and outrage among those who worried he wanted to remove the symbol of LGBTQ pride. At the June 2 city council meeting, there were 13 comments submitted by residents who supported the flag and opposed its removal. Council members unanimously voted in favor a proclamation recognizing Pride Month and stating the city would hoist the flag from June 1 through June 30 in solidarity, although the flag had been raised the day before the meeting.
At the meeting, Taylor requested the comments either not be read or read later in the meeting during council comments because he said public comments weren’t consistently read aloud during the virtual meetings. Council member Susan Boundy Sanders said it was policy that people may request written comments be read into the record.
Because of a misunderstanding with the pdf document containing the comments, Mayor Elaine Cook only read one of the comments, according to a statement later released by City Manager Brandon Buchanan.
Some of the submitted comments referred directly to Taylor’s posts, in which he said those who opposed the raising of the flag last year did not have time to provide input and suggested that “taking it down may be the respectful thing for democratic process and community dialogue and respect for all.”
“… Everyone is accepting of all people and lifestyles and we don’t have a problem,” Taylor later wrote. “There are strong beliefs of a couple of faiths who are discouraged and there are veterans who are ashamed that the city doesn’t fly their flag but flies a flag that is for 5% of the community.”
Screenshots of these comments had been shared on Facebook group pages and included with public comments.
“His comments on social media have raised my own question about whether or not he is fit to serve our community in light of his hurtful comments which refer to being gay as a lifestyle,” resident Karin Yarbrough said in written comments. She identified herself as an LGBT Army veteran. “His beliefs and values are contradictory to what I think an environment of inclusion and diversity is for the city.”
One of the comments submitted opposed raising the flag. Dave Winfield said he thought the city was creating a legal liability “because you will not fly the flags of any of the political movements you don't agree with so you are favoring one sect of the community over others.”
Taylor said he sought opinions through social media to gauge community response to the flag by posting a photo of it and asking if people were offended. He also asked for ideas for other flags that could be flown at City Hall.
“I’m representing myself as a citizen with First Amendment rights,” Taylor said. “The question was there strictly to gain feedback.”
The rainbow flag had been brought to city council last year by a group called Woodinville Social Justice Connection. The administrator of the group’s Facebook page, Heidi Schauble, said she also hadn’t received notice or prompting that the city would once again raise the flag this year, although she was happy at the gesture.
She found Taylor’s posts “heartbreaking,” she said, and she wasn’t convinced his only issue lay with process.
“He’s just upset, it seems to me, that the process hasn’t gone in his favor,” Schauble said.
In her comments submitted to city council, she suggested council members be required to attend annual trainings on sensitivity, diversity and de-escalation. She also asked for a “formal review of Al Taylor for his ongoing inflammatory engagement with local community members.”
“What we’re asking for is to hold their colleague accountable,” she said in an interview. “… If you’re silent, then you’re part of the problem.”
Taylor said he hasn’t heard that people are offended by the flag, and at the June 2 meeting he voted in favor of the pride proclamation. He also said that having public comment before hoisting the flag likely “wouldn’t change any of the votes.”