Democrats oppose GOP lawmaker's bid to ban pride flag on state buildings

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
Gay pride flags on the Romney Building in Lansing in June.

A Republican Michigan lawmaker has generated a Democratic backlash after introducing a bill that would prohibit any flags on state buildings other than the U.S. and state banners.

The bill introduced by Rep. Lynn Afendoulis, R-Grand Rapids Township, appears to target Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s placement of the gay pride flag on the George W. Romney building in Lansing during Pride Month in June.

Afendoulis, a contender for the Republican nomination in the 3rd Congressional District, said the bill addressed the inappropriate support of social movements on government-owned property.

“We shouldn’t be playing identity politics with the people’s property,” Afendoulis said in a Thursday statement. “It isn’t right.”

The bill also appears to prohibit other flags flown occasionally on government buildings, such as the black banner flown to remember prisoners of war. Afendoulis said Friday exceptions could be made for those flags.

Whitmer had a swift rebuke for Afendoulis Thursday, writing on Twitter, “My veto pen is ready.”

Whitmer’s display of the rainbow flags in June marked the first time in Michigan’s history that the banners were flown on a government building in Michigan.

Attorney General Dana Nessel, the state’s first openly gay attorney general, wrote on social media that the presence of the flag likely dissuaded gay youth from harming themselves that day.

“This simple gesture meant more than Rep. Afendoulis will ever know,” Nessel said.

House Democrats disparaged the legislation, noting that the flags’ presence on the Romney building marked “an important milestone in the fight for equality.”

Rep. Lynn Afendoulis, left, talks with Derek Robinson from the House Republican Policy Office during session in The House, Tuesday afternoon, June 18, 2019.

“Hate and discrimination may still have a foothold, but it is temporary; whether or not the pride flag can be flown on a government building won’t stop the overwhelming majority of us who are fighting on the side of progress,” said Democratic Kalamazoo Rep. Jon Hoadley, one of the first openly gay lawmakers in the state House.

Democratic legislators noted that Afendoulis’ legislation comes as she begins her congressional campaign “in a hotly contested primary where candidates are jockeying to prove themselves conservative enough to dominate the now-crowded field."

Afendoulis said the legislation had nothing to do with her run for Congress. Instead, it was prompted by the potentially "slippery slope" that was developing in the wake of Whitmer's decision to fly the pride flags in June. 

"I heard a couple people talking afterward about flags they’d like to fly in retaliation, and I thought our buildings are not meant to be a billboard for identity politics," she said. "My point would be to take a closer look at what is flown to avoid a slippery slope.”

Afendoulis joined the congressional race in late June as Republicans look to replace U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, who was the sole GOP lawmaker in Congress publicly backing the impeachment of President Donald Trump before declaring himself an Independent on July 4.

Afendoulis, 60, is a former 26-year employee of GOP donor Peter Secchia’s lumber giant Universal Forest Products and is serving her first term in the state House.

One of her primary foes in the congressional race, Peter Meijer, criticized the legislation's lack of exceptions for flying POW flags on state buildings. 

Afendoulis said her bill makes exceptions for military flags, but said there is always room for "tweaks" to include other banners such as those that honor prisoners of war or soldiers missing in action.

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