A police commissioner in Long Beach, Long Island is rejecting calls for his resignation in response to allegations that he ordered a Pride Flag to be removed from a local restaurant.
In a press conference on May 16, David Kilmnick, the CEO and president of the LGBT Network, and Brian Wells, the president of the Long Beach Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, accused Police Commissioner Ronald Walsh of singling out the Pride Flag outside of Riptides 11561, a popular eatery on a boardwalk in Long Island. Walsh allegedly cited a city ordinance when he ordered the bar to remove the flag — but allowed other flags to remain.
When the restaurant’s co-owner, Brian Braddish, questioned Walsh about the decision, he allegedly said he could remove any flag he wanted, according to LGBT Network, which also demanded the resignation of Long Beach City Council President John Bendo for allegedly “condoning” Walsh’s comments.
“I feel awful that it has gotten to this level,” Walsh told Gay City News in a phone call on May 17. “But this is political season here in Long Beach, and this is political nonsense and silliness. It has nothing to do with the message of the LGBTQ community… I am 110 percent in full support of that community. Period.”
Kilmnick said the restaurant’s owners were told they could “fly [the Rainbow Flag] in the back of the restaurant.”
“Basically, put the Pride Flag in the closet or in the back of the bus,” Kilmnick said.
In April, Walsh allegedly contacted the restaurant’s lawyer to demand that the Pride Flag be taken down, and then he reiterated that point in another conversation about the banner. Braddish, who serves a large LGBTQ client base, said customers started asking questions once he removed the Pride Flag.
“He’s never asked me to take down my POW Flag,” Braddish told Gay City News. “He never asked me to take down my American Flag, only the Pride Flag. In today’s day and age, people should be entitled to fly it.”
This incident comes as the LGBT Network announces they are moving Long Island Pride events out of Long Beach due to anti-LGBTQ bias from city officials.
“We left Long Beach because of the discrimination we faced from the current administration, and this is yet another example of the ugly hatred that John Bendo and his administration continue to hang on the good people and families of Long Beach,” Kilmnick said in a written statement. “The homophobia must end immediately, and so must the reign of those who continue to act in such a manner.”
Officials in Long Beach contended that the events unfolded differently.
The city has a rule against “flags or signs, other than flags of nations, to be flown on public property by private individuals,” officials said in a statement. They further explained that the city began cracking down on this issue.
Officials said Walsh contacted the lawyer for Riptides and asked him to relocate two of his flags on the property — the Pride Flag and a POW/MIA — and that there was no “mention made of the symbolism of either flag.” Additionally, Bendo said he was not there during a conversation about the banner.
“I was not on the phone call, and I knew nothing about this until a bogus press release was issued,” Bendo said in a written statement. “It is appalling that the LGBT Network is allowing its reputation to be damaged in this way.”
In a phone call, Walsh agreed and said the conversation about the flag “absolutely and unequivocally never took place.”
The city defended Walsh and gave him a vote of confidence in the wake of the controversy.
“The city believes Police Commissioner Walsh did everything he should have done in a respectful and courteous manner to protect the legal interests of the City,” the city said in a written statement. “He exercised no personal or professional judgments other than requesting that the flags be moved a few feet away because they were in violation of the code.
In the end, however, the flag returned.
“They put the Pride Flag back in the position where it belongs to be,” Braddish said.
To sign up for the Gay City News email newsletter, visit gaycitynews.com/newsletter