Rochester Flag Policy Forces Removal of Diversity Flag From Little Free Diverse Library
ROCHESTER (WBSM) — The organization Tri-Town Against Racism is seeking answers after a diversity flag attached to its Little Free Diverse Library in Rochester had to be removed due to a new town flag policy that does not technically apply to this particular flag's location.
TTAR installed its latest Little Free Diverse Library outside of the Joseph H. Plumb Library recently, with a celebration of its installation as part of Juneteenth.
The libraries are part of the Little Free Library movement, in which people build little libraries and stock them with books for people to take, free of charge, and also leave behind their own books for others to take.
The Little Free Diverse Libraries are an offshoot of that movement, in which the books are specifically focused on diversity and inclusion. TTAR previously installed Little Free Diverse Libraries at the Old Landing Wharf in Marion and Ned's Point in Mattapoisett.
On the exterior of the little library in Rochester was a diversity flag, also known as the Progress Pride Flag, which Outright International states “is meant to represent diversity and inclusion.”
The adoption of a new flag policy in Rochester at the July 10 select board meeting, though, led to the library administration asking TTAR to remove the diversity flag from the Little Free Diverse Library.
The flag policy states that “only the United States, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Town of Rochester and official flags of the U.S. Military and POW/MIA flags may be flown on any town-owned flag pole.” The policy came about after two new flag poles were donated to the town.
However, the flag policy specifically states throughout that it applies to “flag poles owned and maintained by the Town of Rochester,” meaning that by definition, the diversity flag attached to the Little Free Diverse Library should be allowed to remain.
The diversity flag was attached to the Little Free Diverse Library by a small wooden dowel, and the LFDL itself is owned and maintained by Tri-Town Against Racism.
“Our hearts are heavy today. Plumb Library administration asked us to remove the diversity flag from our Little Free Diverse Library (LFDL) in Rochester,” TTAR posted to social media and to its website on July 20. “Some community members interpret Rochester's new flag policy to include our little flag, even though the flag on our LFDL isn't (on) a town-owned flag pole.”
Rhonda Baptiste, Vice President of Tri-Town Against Racism, told WBSM that the group received an email from library administration telling them the flag needed to come down, and that they could either come by and get it or the library could take it down and someone from TTAR could pick it up at a later date.
“They informed us there is a library trustees meeting that will take place September 14th where the trustees will decide either to adopt the town policy or write their own policy, and that they will probably adopt the town policy,” Baptiste said.
“I went by the library and asked if the trustees adopt the town policy, does that mean we can’t put the flag back up? I was told that was correct,” she said. “I asked if we could put a flag sticker on the side of the library and was told we could not.”
Commenters on social media suggested painting the Little Free Diverse Library in the colors of the diversity flag, but TTAR replied they were told they could not, at least “not without approval from (the) historical society and trustees vote.”
“TTAR unequivocally supports the diverse individuals whom are represented by the flag. We disagree with the Select Board's decision on the language in the policy and any context that extends the policy to include our Little Diverse Library,” TTAR wrote. “We reject this decision as not being inclusive, fair and egalitarian.”
“If our free speech must be curtailed by town regulations, please know that it is not curtailed in our programming, our mission, or our outreach,” TTAR wrote.
WBSM visited the Plumb Library and spoke with Library Director Kristen Cardoso, who told us that the Board of Trustees sets all policy for the library, and said a decision would be made at the September 14 meeting. She offered no comment beyond that.
The board of trustees returned an email request for comment with a statement that read: "We will be discussing this issue during the public forum section of our upcoming trustee meeting on Thursday, September 14 at 6:30 p.m."
An email sent to the executive assistant of the Rochester Select Board seeking comment from any of the three members of the board has also gone unreturned.