Carolina Beach changes town policy after lifeguard flies LGBT flag off stand

Carolina Beach changes town policy after lifeguard flies LGBT flag off stand

CAROLINA BEACH, NC (WECT) - Carolina Beach is changing town policy after a lifeguard reportedly decided to fly a rainbow flag from one of the lifeguard stands, supporting the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community on the Fourth of July.

"Pretty much immediately someone complained," Zach Hupp said. "Told one of the other lifeguards that they thought because I was flying that flag that I would only rescue gay people."

Hupp said he just wanted everyone to feel accepted and safe.

"I feel like with that flag, I would hope that everyone would feel welcome to come down to the beach, especially near Freeman Park which is filled with other flags that may turn some people away," Hupp added.

But that reasoning didn't fly with town officials.

"The big thing is, as public servants to the community, no matter what's going on around us we have to be unbiased. We have to be fair to all of the people we serve," Fire Chief Alan Griffin explained. "What we try and tell our staff is we don't take stances while on duty for whatever cause it is, no matter how good it is or how bad it is. We stay unbiased, and we cover our beach and we make sure our patrons are safe."

Hupp said he was given a warning, and officials also made the town's policy on which flags can fly from the stands more specific.

Griffin said this kind of situation could be a safety concern.

"Each one [flag] has a different representation, and we always tell beach patrons to swim near a guard and always look at the flag and the flags will tell you whats going on on the beach," Griffin said. "We don't want anything that we flagged or waved off the stands that could be misconstrued other than the fact that it's telling them what the current conditions are…Only things issued to you from the town should be displayed on the stands, and if anything is being altered then it will be done through administration."

That means no flags other than the ones authorized by the town of Carolina Beach or the US Lifesaving Association can be displayed on the stands with the updated policy.

"We're taking this opportunity to explain to them [the lifeguards] what professionalism is about, what doing your job is about, and at the end of the day, making sure the citizens are safe." Griffin said. "We definitely don't want them engaging in things that aren't day-to-day operations."

This all started with a post on the town's Facebook page.

Gina Benton wrote:

I was on the North End today, with about 35 friends, when it was pointed out that Lifeguard Tower #37 was not only flying a yellow flag, but also a gay and lesbian flag. As a long-time resident, I understand the importance of the caution flags, utilized by the lifeguards, but any other flag I thought was prohibited. Being the Fourth of July, an American Flag would have been more appropriate. I didn't know how to explain this one to the tourists who asked us about it. Some knew exactly what type of flag it was, others wondered if it had anything to do with the ocean conditions. I hope that you can reply with a reasonable explanation.

The town responded by saying "Thank you for your inquiry, Gina. It should not have happened and the issue has been addressed with that lifeguard."

As for Hupp, he said if he had known the reaction it would get, he wouldn't have displayed the flag.

"It wasn't anything I was trying to go against the town, I'm honestly surprised  it became as big of a deal as it has," Hupp said.

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