MILTON — If just one person is stealing the Pride flag mounted in the small town park off Rowland Street, he or she is persistent.
Last Sunday — Flag Day — a third rainbow-striped flag representing LGBTQ pride was stolen from a flag pole, less than a week after it was put up during a ceremony on June 9.
The first flag, flown on June 1 to recognize national Pride Month, didn’t last until the next morning. Its replacement, installed on June 3 didn’t last much longer.
The Pride flag was replaced, again, using one of the several residents donated to the town after publicity about the previous thefts.
This time, officials in this Saratoga County town have increased security around the flag, and are hopeful it won’t happen again. Unfortunately, the situation shows that even as social acceptance of diverse sexual orientations has increased throughout society, resistance remains, even if it consists of surreptious theft.
“It was replaced on Thursday, and knock on wood it’s still there,” Milton Town Supervisor Benny Zlotnick said on Friday. “We’ve got security cameras at undisclosed locations, and hopefully that will deter future thefts of the flag.”
The thefts have been reported to the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office, and there is an active police investigation.
“We are following up on some leads,” said Sheriff Michael H. Zurlo. “We take this kind of thing very seriously.”
The situation unfolding in a changing town of about 20,000 — where typical Saratoga County Northway corridor suburban subdivision development sits cheek-by-jowl with picturesque rural landscapes, mobile home parks and a large U.S. Navy nuclear training base. It is also happening as social landscape where the social support — if not always the political support — for LGBTQ communities is increasing.
June is Pride Month, and last Monday — the day after the most recent theft — the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark decision holding that federal anti-discrimination lawls protect members of the lesbian, gay and transgender communities from discrimination by their employers.
The Supreme Court ruling extended civil rights protections to millions of workers nationwide, and was a defeat for the Trump administration, which argued that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act that bars discrimination based on sex did not extend to claims of gender identity or sexual orientation.
In Milton, the Pride flag is located among a group of flags in the pocket park. The park, which is managed by the town, sits on land that is part of the village of Ballston Spa’s Woods Hollow Nature Preserve. There are also a U.S. flag, New York state flag and POW/MIA flag in the park, all of which are there permanently, and none of which have been taken.
Zlotnick said he would like to see the thefts of the Pride flags treated as a hate crime.
“Whether it’s charged as a hate crime is up to the police, but if they find someone that’s that way I feel,” he said.
Ellie Dillon, chairman of the town Democratic Committee, said one of the committee members came up with the idea of putting up the flag and took it to the Town Board, whose members agreed. The Town Board majority are registered Republicans, although three members ran with Democratic backing in last year’s election.
“I do feel it was a hate crime, that it targets a protected minority,” Dillon said. The flags have all been donated, she said, so there has been no cost to the taxpayer, as some critics of the flag have suggested on social media.
“I am proud of the town of Milton and our town government’s persistence to keep the flag flying,” Dillon said.
Zlotnick acknowledged some residents believe the park is dedicated to veterans — but he said it isn’t, though it could be in the future.
Even if it were for veterans, Dillon said, it is appropriate to honor the hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ people who have served in the military of decades, and historically faced discrimination and, if found out, were given less-than-honorable discharges that meant they didn’t receive full veterans’ benefits. It is only in the last decade, after repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” rules, that lesbian, gay and bisexual people have been able to serve openly, and efforts have been made to address the benefits issue.
“The military must be commended for righting their past wrongs,” Dillon said.
Zlotnick said the sheriff’s office has been responsive to the town’s concerns, and has also agreed to step up patrols in the area.
Joe Seeman, a Milton resident who is the Democratic and Working Familes candidate for state Assembly in the 112th Assembly District, defended the importance of the Pride flag.
“It disheartens me to see such hateful behavior in my own backyard,” he said in a statement on the most recent incident. “I stand with our LGBTQ+ neighbors as they celebrate Pride, celebrate Flag Day, and celebrate Monday’s historic Supreme Court victory that extends further civil rights protections to the LGBTQ+ community.”