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$1,500 to lower flag to half-staff? Gay rights group doesn't want to pay

Getting two flags flown at half-staff for a day could cost close to $1,500 in San Francisco.

And the group Gays Without Borders is worried it may have to foot that bill for a ceremony on May 17, International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, or IDAHO, says gay rights blogger and activist Michael Petrelis.

At the group’s request, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors last month approved flying the U.S. and U.N. flags at the city’s United Nations Plaza at half-staff for 24 hours.


But Petrelis said the city Public Works Department told him its cost would be $1,467.90.

The department confirmed to msnbc.com on Tuesday that in a deal with unions, lowering the flags will take two station engineers paid for four hours each at $90 an hour -- or up to $135 an hour nights and weekends with overtime – and another four hours to raise them again. That’s up to $1,080. Where the rest of the cost that Petrelis cited came from was unclear.

However, that does not necessarily mean the group will be billed for the service, a department spokesperson said.

While the formal half-staff order came to the department through the Board of Supervisors, this is the first time to her knowledge any private group had submitted a flag-lowering request. So the city is working out how to proceed. 

“We are willing to respect the day and of course the flags will be lowered,” Gloria Chan, department spokeswoman, told msnbc.com.

Chan said details of any ceremonies that Petrelis and his group want to perform in conjunction with the flags have yet to be worked out.

She also said protocols with respect to the U.S. flag also had to be worked out.

The Flag Code allows only for the president or state governors to order the flying of U.S. flags at half-staff.

May 17 marks the day in 1990 that the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses. The San Francisco resolution notes that Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Mexico, Costa Rica, France, Luxemburg and Brazil recognize IDAHO.

“I mean, c’mon,” Petrelis said, according to the San Francisco Examiner. “If San Francisco, of all cities, can’t find a way to lower two flags for 24 hours to honor dead gay people from around the world, what does that say about San Francisco?”

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