WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — The only flags that will fly above Williamson County-owned buildings will be the United States and Texas flags, after the commissioners voted not to allow other types.
Two justices of the peace came forward to ask for permission to temporarily fly the rainbow Pride flag through June, and the POW/MIA flag during the week of Veterans Day. A total of 17 people spoke at the commissioners’ meeting Tuesday, though the majority opposed the proposal.
Judge Stacy Hackenberg from Precinct Four and Judge KT Musselman from Precinct One may not have convinced the commissioners to support their plan, but they said after the meeting Tuesday that they did not regret pursuing it.
“One of my clerks asked me, ‘Is this the hill you want to die on six months into your term?'” Judge Hackenberg said. “I didn’t answer her then when she asked, but I say to her today, ‘Yes.’ This was the reason I got into politics was LGBTQ activism.”
Williamson County commissioners voted 4-0 on the measure. Commissioner Cynthia Long was not present. They also approved an official policy to allow the Williamson County flag to fly on a separate pole.
Williamson County Bill Gravell expressed concern about the kind of precedent this request would set if the commissioners had ultimately approved it.
“In this particular instance we’ve got 66 county buildings and 20 that fly flags,” Gravell said. “For me, fundamentally, it just was, where do we stop?”
“I know that we don’t need a flag to challenge us to accept, understand and show love and respect for other people, but a reminder to show love isn’t all that bad,” Commissioner Terry Cook said from the dais Tuesday. “But I agree that where is it that you say, ‘Oh no, can’t do that one.’ I think that’s tricky, and, as a county, I think we need to stay with our two flags.”
Even though he said he was disappointed by the commissioners’ decision, Judge Musselman told KXAN that he understood their rationale.
“That’s something that I can recognize and appreciate,” he said. “But I think that does not diminish the request that we made for these communities to have that representation to be able to say my county government hears me, and I am apart of it, too.”
Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, Judge Gravell said more than 70,000 people responded to polls he put on social media about this plan, and the majority opposed it. Fourteen people signed up Tuesday to speak against the proposal.
“Isn’t the American flag inclusive enough for all of us?” Bobby Seiferman asked.
“Any flag that flies over this county building should represent all of the residents of Williamson County,” Barry Marchant later added.
Three people, however, stood up and voiced their support for the justices’ plan, arguing that the temporary addition of these flags would send a powerful, symbolic message.
“None of this was meant to divide, but instead unite,” Zach Rodriguez, who works for Judge Hackenberg, said. “To tell these marginalized communities, who are representing in every facet of your lives whether you see them or not, that here in Williamson County, we see you. Here in Williamson County, we respect you. Here in Williamson County, you are safe. That’s really what this all boils down to — just visibility, just protection and just care.”
Judges Hackenberg and Musselman said they are still considering displaying the Pride flag inside their courtrooms, but they plan to review ethical guidelines and standards before doing so. Judge Gravell questioned if the justices should even do that.
“Once you put a robe on, you deal with a whole different set of rules. You’ve got to be fair and impartial to everyone,” Gravell said. “They should all know by walking into your courtroom that you’re going to be fair and impartial, and nothing they see coming into that context should slant them one way or the other.”
Hackenberg, though, pushed back on the claim that displaying the rainbow Pride flag somehow did not make her impartial.
“I will not be prejudicial because someone is LGBTQ, no more than I would be if they were African-American or any other ethnic group, religion or minority,” she said. “To imply that I would do so is an insult.”
Hackenberg and Musselman said they may also bring up a declaration to the Commissioners Court in June 2020, asking them to officially voice support for the LGBTQ community.