Programmable lights were added to the courthouse for holidays and events, and a policy was added after Pride organizers asked to be included.
By Bob Vitale
Before the end of this year, the clock tower of the 140-year-old Licking County courthouse will be lit up in purple and white for Alzheimer’s Disease awareness; pink and white for breast cancer awareness; blue and white for diabetes awareness; red, white and blue for Constitution Day; red, white and green for Columbus Day; and red, brown, yellow and green for Thanksgiving.
But despite pleas from the organizers of Newark’s first-ever LGBTQ Pride celebration that multicolored lights for their June 9 event would offer a profound message of acceptance to young people, county commissioners say they won’t deviate from a policy that includes 18 federal holidays, health awareness days and other observations.
“Shame on them!” Pride organizers declared on their Facebook page over the weekend as they asked supporters to attend a May 1 commissioners meeting at which they’ll ask the three elected officials to rethink their stand. “We’re not backing down!”
In a story Friday in the Newark Advocate newspaper, commissioners said they adopted a policy and schedule for courthouse lighting on April 3 as a result of many requests for color combinations to recognize local events and observations.
Licking County added LED lights that are programmable in different color combinations as part of a $9 million courthouse renovation completed last fall.
Newark City Council member Sean Fennell, however, wonders whether the policy was adopted in response to an email he sent to commissioners three weeks before that requested the rainbow lighting in June. Fennell is openly gay and a member of the Newark Pride Committee.
“This is a special day for our community, and having the courthouse lit in celebration would stand as a beacon of acceptance,” Fennell wrote to commissioners on March 12.
Although Fennell asked commissioners to let him know of any “official process” to request colors for the courthouse, he never heard back. After another email on April 5 and a call on April 16, he received a letter dated April 17 that told him about the new policy.
“Our policy … precludes taking requests for special events, causes and individual observances,” Commissioners Rick Black, Timothy Bubb and Duane Flowers wrote. “As you can imagine, there would be hundreds of requests year round, and it would be impossible to entertain them equally.”
“It is clear that the commissioners knew about the request prior to passing Resolution 94-216B and could have made the decision to include Pride in the calendar of approved lightings prior to passage,” Fennell wrote in an email to Pride supporters.
Commissioners take comments from the public at their meetings, and Fennell encouraged people to attend the meeting and speak. “It is your right to have your voice heard by your elected officials,” he said.
Newark Pride is scheduled for Saturday, June 9 in the city’s Canal Market District, 25 E. Canal St., 43055. The festival takes place from 4 p.m.-7 p.m., followed by parties at Thirty One West and Denison Art Space.