AMSTERDAM — Flying the Pride flag in Amsterdam would be a sign of support for a fearful LGBTQ community, according to Jennifer Vallejo, community mobilization program coordinator at Centro Civico, a division of Ibero.
“It’s basically a portrayal of inclusivity in the community, showing people that we’re a safe space and hoping it will initiate more safe spaces across Amsterdam,” Vallejo said. “There’s a big gay community in Amsterdam, but they’re hidden out of fear.”
This is why the Centro Civico, in coordination with In Our Own Voices, has requested permission to fly the Pride Flag at Amsterdam City Hall during Pride Month in June. The request was denied by Mayor Michael Cinquanti.
“The gay community is really underrepresented here,” Vallejo said.
Centro Civico will instead host a Pride flag-raising event at its own building, 143 E. Main St., on Friday at 4 p.m., with music and guest speakers from area nonprofits advocating for and support the LGBTQ community.
“At the end of the day, we want to show love in our community and develop a bond to continue showing up for them,” Vallejo said. “We just want to shed a positive light on the subject.”
The Pride event will demonstrate in an important way that Centro Civico is an ally of the LGBTQ community and a safe space for all, Vallejo said. This is what is missing from the disappointing refusal to host the event at City Hall and the lack of explanation from Cinquanti, she added.
“It didn’t make sense to me that we couldn’t even for an hour put an LGBTQ flag up there,” Vallejo said.
The American, New York State and Amsterdam flags fly outside City Hall. The city does not have an official policy regarding which flags should be flown outside the municipal building, according to Cinquanti.
Still, Cinquanti said only government flags should be displayed at City Hall because they represent all residents.
“I know there are individuals who don’t feel like they are part of the community, it’s my job to make sure they feel like they are,” Cinquanti said. “I’m proud to be the mayor of a city with an active LGBTQ community.”
Still, the Ukrainian flag was hoisted in front of City Hall after Russia invaded the country as a sign of solidarity with the nation and the natives within the local community in February.
However, Cinquanti said flying non-government flags representing groups or organizations could create legal issues if the city was asked to raise a hate group’s symbol, which would be flatly denied.
“We could be asked to fly any flag,” Cinquanti said.
The refusal to fly the pride flag contradicts Cinquanti’s message of support and continues longstanding failures at the local level to embrace the gay community, according to Vallejo, who said the mayor failed to recognize the significance more wide of the decision.
“It’s about the community, we’re trying to talk about a bigger goal,” Vallejo said. “It became something it didn’t have to be. It was really sad. We are not welcome.
“Honestly, this is nothing new to me,” she added. “It’s scary to be gay here, because we don’t want to become someone’s hate crime…I’ve had kids tell me they live on the streets because their mother or their father don’t accept who they are.”
It was not until she left Amsterdam that Vallejo was exposed to discussions of identity and sexuality that often remain unspoken locally. After studying psychology and sociology at Hunter College in New York, she decided to return to the area to use her new knowledge to cultivate a more inclusive environment.
“I returned to Amsterdam with the intention of creating change in the community,” Vallejo said. “People are afraid to be themselves and that should never be a thing.”
“There are people who are awake, it gives me more hope,” she continued. “In the most respectful way, we want to educate people and make them understand something that they don’t understand.”
Vallejo hasn’t given up on seeing the pride flag hoisted at City Hall one day. She plans to start a petition and work with area organizations to lobby for the city to adopt a policy allowing the pride flag to fly outside the public building.
For now, Vallejo is looking forward to celebrating Pride Month in an inclusive atmosphere when the flag is raised at Centro Civico on Friday.
“We just hope to show some love,” Vallejo said.
Contact Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.