Surfside Mayor Shlomo Danzinger just wants everyone to feel at home and welcome in his town.
One might think that special events that celebrate a particular culture or demographic would support Danzinger's mission. But in the mayor's mind, these are implements of exclusion and run the risk of alienating residents and making people feel like they don't belong.
In keeping with his aversion to cultural celebrations, the mayor last week sought to shoot down a proposal that the city hold a gay pride event this coming June. While explaining his reasoning at a March 14 commission meeting, Danzinger used some rhetorical arguments that caught attendees off-guard.
"How would we feel if we start having the Ukraine flag flying? How will our Russian residents feel about that? How would we feel if we start having Israeli day parades or shul parades that the town starts sponsoring?" Danzinger asked at the meeting.
The proposal came from resident Brian Bey during the "general welfare" portion of the meeting. Bey suggested that the town host a gay-pride celebration when the rainbow flag is raised in June for LGBT Pride Month. This past August, the town commission agreed in a 3-2 vote to allow the flag to fly during Pride Month this year after declining to raise it last year.
"I think it would be nice to have some sort of event that makes us aware that Surfside is open to diversity and inclusion, an event similar to what we have on Thursday and Saturday nights," Bey said in front of the commission.
Bey was apparently referring to town-promoted events including the "Third Thursdays" series where "an array of cultural experiences" serve to "entertain people of all generations" every third Thursday of the month. On February 16, it was Luau Night to highlight Hawaiian culture, which included performances by a Polynesian band and dancers.
Bey added that previous commissioners approved town-sponsored gay pride events, referencing a flyer from June 2021. (He noted they were canceled because of the tragic Champlain Towers South building collapse.) The town commission had also raised the flag during Pride Month that year.
"On this particular issue, there's no straddling of the fence," Bey told the commission. "The question at hand here: is Surfside a town of diversity and inclusion or not? I think the answer [to] that question is in each of your hands."
Although Commissioner Fred Landsman agreed with Bey and asked the town manager to plan a ceremony for this year's flag-raising, Danzinger spoke out strongly against it. He said no taxpayer money will be spent on any "event that caters to one group."
"All our events we try to do [are] inclusive — that means everyone comes to them. Everybody feels at home, not one group," the mayor, an Orthodox Jewish resident, added. "Inclusivity means speaking to everybody, not singling out a single denomination. I know you have already gone to the tourist board on this and they have told you the same thing... Every event that we spend town money on is going to bring everybody out."
The mayor included his own ethnic background in his examples of events that might exclude some town residents. He also pointed out that the town hosts a "Spring Egg Hunt" instead of an Easter egg hunt to appeal to people of all religious backgrounds and make "everyone feel comfortable."
"Imagine driving up or down Harding Avenue, you pass by city hall and there is a big Israeli flag flying over town. How does that make you feel?" Danzinger asked. "Does that make you feel included in this town? How about if there was a big Israeli day parade going up Collins Avenue? Again, does that make you feel included in the town?"
Danzinger opposed the raising of the LGBTQ pride flag last June over concerns it could force the town to accept requests from extreme groups like "Satanic cults" or groups trying to raise swastika flags, as he framed it. He believes town flag poles should be reserved elusively for government flags.
The town's decision to not fly the pride flag was met with public criticism and protest.
Commissioner Nelly Vasquez disagreed with Danzinger's vision of inclusivity and voiced her support for the town hosting a gay pride event.
"I hope we do prepare an event as a thank you to our entire community as we should be inclusive of everyone," she said. "It shouldn't be something that comes here when it's convenient only for one group. We are a community of diversity so I fully support that."
Surfside spokesperson Frank Trigueros did not respond to New Times' request for comment.