‘Flag Police’ acting at GOP’s urging, took down Pride Month flags, Fetterman tells donors

    Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman [Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller]

    (*This story was updated at 3:23 p.m. on Wednesday, 6/2/21 to include a second email that Lt. Gov. John Fetterman sent to donors and supporters. It was further updated to clarify the chain-of-command)

    Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s ongoing fight with legislative Republicans over the flags he flies from the balcony of his Capitol office got a Pride Month twist on Tuesday.

    Shortly after he began flying LGBTQ Pride flags to mark the state of Pride Month, the Democrat said state employees, acting at the “behest” of the GOP, removed them, The Hill, a publication that covers Congress, reported.

    Image from Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s email to donors (Screen Capture)

    “I can’t say I am surprised, but I am deeply disappointed that the flags were removed, on the literal start of Pride Month,” Fetterman said in a statement, according to The Hill.

    “But what’s even more disappointing and angering is that the Republicans in Pennsylvania can quickly come up with legislation to take down the flags, but not to ensure that Pennsylvania law explicitly protects the LGBTQIA+ community from discrimination. This is bulls***,” he added.

    On Tuesday afternoon, Fetterman’s political machine blasted out an email to supporters wishing them a happy Pride Month, with a photograph of the rainbow-colored flag flying from his balcony on the Capitol’s West Front.

    “Flying this flag from my office is technically breaking a law. The GOP sends the ‘flag police’ to confiscate these flags every chance they get,” Fetterman told donors in the email. “But no matter what, I’m just gonna keep hanging my flags back up … They are more than just pieces of cloth. They are a signal to the world that we are still fighting for LGBTQIA+ rights protected under law.”

    On Wednesday afternoon, Fetterman sent out a follow-up email to donors, letting them know the flags had been removed.

    “Literally hours after I emailed you yesterday, the Pennsylvania GOP confiscated my LGBTQIA+ pride flags AGAIN,” Fetterman wrote.

    The “flag police” mentioned in the Tuesday email are putatively nonpartisan employees of the Pennsylvania Department of General Services, which manages the Capitol complex and its grounds. The agency is under the auspices of the Democratic Wolf administration, where Fetterman, a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in 2022, is de facto second-in-command.

    Troy Thompson, a spokesman for the Department of General Services, confirmed to the Capital-Star that an agency employee had removed the flag, and said the department was only carrying out the letter of the 2020 state law banning the display of non-approved flags, including the LGBTQ Pride Flag, on the Capitol’s facade.

    “We’re a state government entity. We’re as non-partisan as it gets,” Thompson told the Capital-Star. “There’s no police detail. They go in there, get what they need, and leave.”

    “Act 114 of 2020 requires us to get the flags every time it happens,” Thompson added.

    In the donor email, Fetterman vowed to continue flying the flags, and took the GOP-controlled General Assembly to task for its years-long refusal to pass state-level anti-discrimination protections for the commonwealth’s LGBTQ residents.

    “If you agree that expanding rights and protections for LGBTQIA+ Americans is a no-brainer, then I’m respectfully asking you to make an important impact on our big, inclusive, and PROUD campaign by making your first donation today,” Fetterman wrote.

    As the Capital-Star previously reported, the flag language was tucked into a piece of budget-enabling legislation passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly and signed into law by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.

    The language was inserted into the bill by now-Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, has frequently verbally sparred with Fetterman on the Senate floor.

    John L. Micek
    A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press