De Pere Flag Debate: Are Signs of Inclusiveness… Divisive?

De Pere Flag Debate: Are Signs of Inclusiveness… Divisive?

Flags hanging at De Pere High School commemorate the foreign exchange students who have studied there over the years. (Photo by Kristin Lyerly)

By Pat Kreitlow

August 22, 2023

Conservatives in another Wisconsin community are targeting Pride flags and signs that are designed to promote the notion of acceptance and tolerance.

The DePere School Board has delayed a decision on a proposal to restrict LGBTQ Pride flags from being displayed in district buildings. 

The proposed policy would limit flag displays to the US flag, the Wisconsin state flag, the flag for a municipality where a school building is located, and the Prisoners of War-Missing in Action (POW-MIA) flag. Other flags could not be displayed without school board consideration. The debate is similar to one taking place in the Hartland School District in Waukesha County, where a proposal was offered that was interpreted as an attempt to banish LGBTQ and Black Lives Matter signs and symbols from school property. 

Attendance at the De Pere meeting Monday night included people from outside the school district, after the Republican Party of Brown County tried to build a crowd to support the restriction.

In a Sunday email, Brown County GOP Chair Doug Reich urged members and others to attend the school board meeting “[regardless] if you live in De Pere or elsewhere” because “this is a great opportunity to show support for our conservative school board members who will be voting for this patriotic flag policy.”

While the proposal does not specifically mention the Pride flag, Reich was clear in his email that he supported the measure and opposed the Pride flag being flown. 

“The time to stand up against the liberal propaganda machine,” Reich wrote.  

At the meeting, public comments centered largely on the Pride flag, with some calling it divisive.

“Why are we excluding 95% of community members by trying to have a flag that only represents a small percentage?” said one unnamed attendee, according to WLUK-TV.

For others, like Brown County Democratic Party Chair Christy Welch, the anti-LGBTQ comments only reaffirmed the need to identify spaces designed to be free from discrimination, exclusion, bigotry and violence.

“[They] want to restrict people that are different from you being welcomed and that it’s a group that needs support,” Welch said. “The world has come a long ways since I was in school, but if you’re an LGBTQ kid, you’re still going to get bullied more. There’s higher rates of depression and suicide. And given that school is a place where all kids go to feel like a safe space, that’s a signal to them that you’re welcome here. Why would you want to go out of your way to say that that should not happen?”

The policy itself was criticized for being vague and raising many questions. Does the policy apply only to outdoor flagpoles or to classrooms also? How about clothing or stickers? Can the flag for Germany be displayed in a German language class? What about flags affiliated with sports teams or special occasions such as Holocaust Remembrance Day?

De Pere parent Wolf Hindrichs, a former school board candidate and a combat veteran, also took issue with the POW-MIA flag being singled out for inclusion—saying anti-LGBTQ activists are using it as cover.

“I respect the POW-MIA flag very much,” Hindrichs said. “But I think the use of patriotism as a vessel, as a means of shutting other people out, is infuriating. It’s certainly not what we fought for and what we purport to believe.”

There is no state law requiring display of a POW-MIA flag except at highway rest stops. Federal law requires it to be displayed whenever the US flag is flying at certain federally-owned locations. Former President Donald Trump, however, removed the flag from atop the White House and had it placed in a less prominent location on the South Lawn. President Joe Biden restored it to its higher perch shortly after taking office.

The flag policy was scheduled to be voted on Monday night, but school board members decided to table the discussion until their next meeting on Sept. 18.


  • Pat Kreitlow

    The Founding Editor of UpNorthNews, Pat was a familiar presence on radio and TV stations in western Wisconsin before serving in the state Legislature. After a brief stint living in the Caribbean, Pat and wife returned to Chippewa Falls to be closer to their growing group of grandchildren. He now serves as UNN's chief political correspondent and host of UpNorthNews Radio, airing weekday mornings 6 a.m.-8 a.m on the Civic Media radio network and the UpNorthNews Facebook page.

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