About 10 members of the Vernon Township LGBTQ+ community came to the May 9 Vernon Township Council meeting requesting that the township fly the Pride flag during June, which has been designated Pride Month.
Township resident Carl Contino had recently submitted a petition signed by nearly 350 people and Contino said the petition has the support of Mayor Howard Burrell. If the township agrees to do so, Vernon would be the first Sussex County township to fly the flag.
“As a native off Vernon, seeing that my hometown supports LGBTQ+ rights would mean the world to me and to those who are closeted or are dealing with families in situations where they’re not supportive,” Contino said. “This simple gesture of flying a flag can remind them that they are not alone and that love will always prevail.”
Pride flags that have been flown at the Sparta Methodist Church have been burned twice, the second most recently on April 20. The Sussex County Sheriff’s Office and Sparta police said in the most recent incident, two young adult males entered the church property and used an accelerant to burn the LBGTQ+ flag.
Vernon was the first town in the county to recognize June as Pride Month, and Vernon native and current Hamburg resident Zoe Heath, also the head of Sussex County Pride, said she has experienced both discrimination and “great acceptance” in the town.
The Rev. Peggy Ludlow, recently installed as pastor of Holy Counselor Lutheran Church, is a lesbian female pastor married to a woman and said she has been shunned by the area clergy.
“The Vernon Town Council can take a simple step, and showing to welcome those who are purposely excluded, by voting to raise the Pride flag,” Ludlow said.
Others were not sure.
Township resident Steve Dunlop said that should not be a topic brought before the council. He said only the U.S. flag should be flown over the municipal building.
Ann Larsen said that the LGBTQ+ community couldn’t be found at the municipal building and the acceptance they are seeking should come from their families.
“It starts at home, not the municipal level,” she said. “To [Ludlow], you know what, put it on your church and see how it goes from there.”
Councilman Mike Furrey commended everyone who spoke for their courage. He also encouraged the council to consider some sort of resolution at the next council meeting to recommend that June be recognized as Pride Month, and to raise the Pride flag.