Denver, CO

Why I no longer fly a gay pride flag

David Heitz

(Photo: Submitted. At one time I flew my rainbow flag with pride.)

My Denver neighbors don’t ever have to worry about me flying a gay pride flag.

Or a Proud Boys flag.

Or a Black Lives Matter flag.

The ACLU of Colorado has filed a lawsuit in federal court over a Denver man’s desire to display his gay pride flag.

“Mr. Pendery has a constitutional right to fly a Pride flag and to post a social justice sign on his own property,” said Mark Silverstein, ACLU of Colorado Legal Director. “The Metro District’s rules, which carry the force of law in the Whispering Pines subdivision, violate the First Amendment and the Colorado Constitution’s guarantee of free expression.”

Pendery has been sideways with his homeowner’s association, or HOA, before. When he displayed his flag last summer, he received a violation letter from the HOA.

HOAs can fine homeowners and even place liens on their homes. Upon second consideration, the HOA decided to allow Pendery to display his flag, but only until December. He must re-apply to fly the flag this year.

Pendery also wants to erect “We Believe” signs that list his family’s beliefs about equality and kindness.

“The Metro District has complete discretion over whether to grant or deny approval,” according to an ACLU news release. “There are no written guidelines to prevent censorship on the basis of the subject or viewpoint that the flag or sign communicates.”

Pendery says he likes living in Whispering Pines but expects his Constitutional rights to be recognized. “We immediately felt at home when we moved to the neighborhood last year and formed strong relationships with our neighbors,” he said. “But it’s incredibly disheartening that the governing body whose primary responsibility is to protect residents’ investments instead chooses to focus its limited resources on violating our right to free speech.”

Pride flag a relic of my gay adolescence

Do you still wear your Spiderman costume when you’re 50?

I guess maybe you do if you’re Spiderman.

But most people who won’t let go of something from their adolescence (even if their adolescence was at 30) don’t make for great grownups.

And that’s how I view the gay pride flag – as something from my adolescence.

I bought one when I first “came out” of the closet. I hung it in the window. It was a great way to meet other gay people, which seemed to be everyone where I was living in Long Beach, Calif., at the time.

I was an enormously proud gay man for a while. I even became executive editor of the nation’s historic gay rights magazine, The Advocate.

But today, I don’t fly the gay flag. I am not ashamed of who I am, not one bit. But I’m not overflowing with gay pride, either.

Sure, the flag is supposed to symbolize gay pride. But what are we proud of? The overdose rate in the gay community? The number of gay guys who know the lyrics of Diana Ross’ “I will survive” by heart?

That, of course, was just some self-deprecating humor. I know the words of "I will survive" by heart and even was in the video Diana Ross made with Ru Paul for the remake of this song. The video was filmed on Santa Monica Boulevard and they made it look like it was a gay pride festival. I appear briefly dancing in the street.

True story. And I guess I'm proud of that split-second of fame.

But to fly a flag declaring pride for your sexuality seems to invite debate. If you think you can convince someone who is opposed to “gay rights” that your rainbow flag is harmless, you’ll be arguing until you’re both dead.

Is the conversation even necessary? Equal rights protections for gay people seem to be advancing at a more rapid clip than ever in this country.

Too much division in our country

I can see why, if applied fairly, homeowners’ associations would want a policy outlining what kinds of flags and signs can be posted. They don’t want controversy brewing between backyards.

Displaying materials that have invoked violence all over the country probably don’t make for quiet evenings in idyllic subdivisions.

I would argue that people who purchase homes in places that make up neighborhood rules should think twice about whether they really want to live there. Are the entry gates or other amenities worth the infringement on your First Amendment rights?

You can imagine the strong personalities living in the high-end subdivisions. Political views can be overpowering in some people, especially when they have money.

It’s probably best to leave politics out of the neighborhood potluck.

In the meantime, the ACLU has asked for an injunction so Pendery can fly his flag and post his “We believe” signs.

“The Colorado Constitution declares that all persons shall be free to speak out, but almost all new homes are built in subdivisions with rules enforced by HOAs or metro districts that severely restrict the exercise of this constitutional right,” Silverstein said. “The Colorado legislature should step in and enact legislation to make it clear that both HOAs and metro districts cannot forbid residents from posting signs or flags that express their views on social and political issues.”

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I have been in the news business more than 30 years, spending much of my career at some of the best newspapers in the country. Today, I specialize in Denver local news, health reporting, social justice issues, addiction/recovery/mental health news, and topics surrounding homelessness and human trafficking.

Denver, CO

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