One after another, disgruntled North Dakotans took the podium at a city council meeting in Minot to air their grievances.
At issue: the mayor’s decision to raise the Pride flag at city hall a week earlier.
One person recalled having to “embarrassingly” answer an elderly neighbor’s question about “what the flag was up on their city court.” Another accused the mayor of starting a “war” in the city and said he had “never been so pissed off.”
Eventually, council member Carrie Evans appeared to have had enough.
“So Mr. Walker, if you’re not aware and I think a lot of people in this room are not aware and have come here just because this is a gay issue, I am proudly the first openly elected lesbian in North Dakota,” she said at the September 8 meeting, addressing one resident who singled her out while speaking. “So that is why I am not paying any heed to your crap.”
She continued, “This city is big enough for all of us. Me having a flag flying doesn’t take away anything from your rights and freedoms. But you know what it does for me?”
“It shows me I live in a city that appreciates and embraces me and the people of my community and that I can live here and feel safe,” Evans said. “That’s what it does. I’m sorry it doesn’t make you feel comfortable. But we’re here, we’re queer and we’re not going away.”
Mayor says the meeting did not reflect Minot
Magic City Equality, a LGBTQ+ advocacy organization in North Dakota, flew the rainbow flag beneath the US and state flags at Minot City Hall on September 2.
The flag was up for 24 hours and the ceremony, which had been approved by Mayor Shaun Sipma, was one of several activities held by Magic City Equality that week. Those events were part of the group’s Pride festival, which was originally scheduled to take place in June but was moved due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
During the city council meeting, Sipma noted that a Pride flag larger than the US flag was initially raised by mistake – an issue he said was quickly corrected.
Those who spoke at the city council meeting gave various reasons for objecting to the flag being flown at city hall. One person suggested it would open the door to “riots, looting and destruction.” A few cited religious beliefs, referencing the Bible. Some said allowing the Pride flag to be flown meant that the city should allow other flags too, such as “a heterosexual flag and a Confederate flag.”
Sipma said at the meeting that his decision to allow the Pride flag to be flown stemmed from conversations he had with LGBTQ people and “listening to the stories of absolutely hatred they had endured, simply because of being different.”
While being questioned by a resident who objected to the flag being raised at city hall, he addressed several residents who insisted their objections were not rooted in hate.
“It’s been referenced a couple of times that there isn’t hate or that they’re not against those folks,” Sipma said, saying he had fielded a number of phone calls over his decision. ” … I’ve experienced a tremendous amount of hate towards me and towards the folks that fit under that umbrella.”
“So, what led to my decision on that was also seeing a population within our community that does need to have that issue addressed – the issue of hate,” he continued. “When they came to me, they had stated that they wanted a call for kindness, not necessarily acceptance, but a call for kindness. And that I can appreciate.”
Sipma told CNN that since the meeting, his office has received several requests to fly other flags at city hall. He said the city is holding off on approving such requests until it develops a standard policy around the issue, which he said would be discussed at the next city council meeting.
Until the most recent meeting, he said, flag-raising at city hall had never been an issue. The Juneteenth flag flew a few months earlier, and the POW/MIA flag was raised on Friday.
Sipma said he stood by his decision to raise the Pride flag.
“The community itself and folks under the umbrella of LGBTQ have faced discrimination in the past and that’s something I’ve been adamant about also acknowledging for our community as a whole,” he said. “Not only our community, but a lot of communities have some work to do to make sure everyone is treated with kindness.”
He added that several of the people who objected to the flag being raised were not residents of Minot, and that the sentiment reflected at the meeting was “not a full representation of who our community is.”
Members of the group Magic City Equality had initially planned to attend, he said, but ultimately decided against it after receiving a “threatening” email.
“I can very safely say that the video that was out there does not give a full representation of who Minot is as a community,” he said.
Council member called the meeting a ‘necessary rupture’
Evans addressed the uproar at the meeting in a Facebook post on September 10.
“What happened this week at the City Council meeting, while painful and difficult, was a necessary rupture in our community. From this rupture, I have full confidence that our community, our Minot, will become stronger and better,” she wrote in a statement.
Since the meeting, Evans said she has been receiving hundreds of messages from people in Minot, in North Dakota and around the world, some of which have expressed sadness, fear or a loss of hope.
“For them, I have decided to share some of the beautiful, loving and kind messages I have received so that they, and others, can see the Minot that I love. This is the first installment,” the statement read, accompanied by an image highlighting positive messages. “This is the Minot that will prevail.”