“Sam Belanger, youth pastor of Howell Assembly of God Church…wants his name removed from the resolution because of the continuing controversy of the rainbow flag hung in the school by the Diversity Club and approved by district administration. …Opponents to the public display of the flag have stated it represents gay pride and promotes homosexuality in the school. …What he said he originally saw as a ‘statement of good faith toward honoring diversity’ has become a ‘full-blown approval of the homosexual lifestyle,’ which stood in opposition of his personal beliefs.”
DAILY PRESS & ARGUS
October 12, 2005
Flag flap chafes youth pastor
He wants name off diversity resolution
by Christopher Nagy
Sam Belanger, youth pastor of Howell Assembly of God Church, was initially honored that he was tapped to help Howell Public Schools draft a diversity resolution, which was officially adopted by the Howell Public Schools Board of Education in December 2003.
Nearly two years later, however, Belanger, who writes the Teen Talk column Fridays in the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus, wants his name removed from the resolution because of the continuing controversy of the rainbow flag hung in the school by the Diversity Club and approved by district administration.
“I’m not asking,” Belanger said of removing his name. “I’m demanding, because my support was out there for it, and I don’t want it to be anymore.”
Howell Public Schools Superintendent Charles Breiner said the district will honor Belanger’s wishes and remove his name from the document.
The diversity resolution itself states that “the district and the community shall undertake initiatives to identify and support the rich advantages of diversity in the school environment, in the school employment policies, in school curriculums and instructional approaches, in school athletics, in extracurricular activities and in the community.”
Belanger’s qualms over continuing to be a part of the resolution specifically involve the rainbow flag. The district and the Diversity Club have maintained that the controversial banner represents and celebrates diversity in all forms. Opponents to the public display of the flag have stated it represents gay pride and promotes homosexuality in the school.
“What homosexuals call the gay-pride flag is that,” Belanger said of the flag at the high school. “It’s not that I’m anti-diversity. I’m definitely a supporter of true diversity; and it’s not that I hate homosexuals, but I just can’t come to grips with approving their lifestyle.”
Belanger said he had some initial reservations surface when the resolution was being drafted several years ago and the issue of homosexuality was brought into the conversation. Belanger said he felt the group was taking a wrong turn with the diversity concept at that point, but decided to see the process through because he supported the vast majority of what was included in the resolution.
“You still look at the baby and the bathwater,” he said.
However, the controversy in late 2004 and early 2005 that stirred in the district with the placing of the rainbow flag in the main stairwell of the high school, and the media coverage the controversy received, was too much, Belanger said.
What he said he originally saw as a “statement of good faith toward honoring diversity” has become a “full-blown approval of the homosexual lifestyle,” which stood in opposition of his personal beliefs.
“It’s been eating me inside for a few months, and I thought enough was enough,” he said. “It’s one of those things I don’t think I would have to do if my signature wasn’t hanging under that flag.”
Breiner said there were no ill feelings with Belanger distancing himself from the resolution. Sometimes forces Ã¢â‚¬â€ whether they are religious, philosophical or personal Ã¢â‚¬â€ change a person’s view, he said.
“People are entitled to have second thoughts,” he said.
The district, however, is still standing by its position on the rainbow flag and the overall intention of the diversity resolution.
“I think it remains an extraordinary document for a public school system to enforce,” he said.
It should also be one that is emulated in other districts, Breiner added.
Despite the insistence that the rainbow flag is somewhat of a mirror of the diversity resolution, representing and reflective of diversity in all forms, the flag immediately prompted an outcry when it was first displayed in November 2004. Opponents saw the flag in the same light as Belanger, and said that as such it was inappropriate for display.
The Howell school board stood by the flag, and it was dedicated in early February. At the same time, a flier criticizing the Howell High School Diversity Club, and the association of the rainbow flag used by the club with the gay-pride movement, was distributed to some homes in Howell by the Plymouth chapter of the National Alliance, a nationwide white supremacy group.
Although the issue has become more subdued in recent months, it still lingers somewhat in the community, and one Web log Ã¢â‚¬â€ justtakeitdown.blogspot.com, purportedly created by a student at Howell High School Ã¢â‚¬â€ posts ongoing commentary on the flag issue.