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A North Carolina lifeguard received a barrage of complaints from beachgoers after he flew a rainbow flag on his Carolina Beach lifeguard stand on the Fourth of July.
“Pretty much immediately someone complained [and] told one of the other lifeguards that they thought because I was flying that flag that I would only rescue gay people,” Zach Hupp told Wilmington, N.C., TV station WECT.
Gina Benton, a town resident, posted her concern on the town's Facebook page:
"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."
Hupp told WECT that he only set up the flag to show his support for the LGBT community, and for "everyone [to] feel welcome to come down to the beach, especially near Freeman Park which is filled with other flags that may turn some people away."
City officials, however, said Hupp's show of support was a violation of ethical guidelines and updated their rules on what flags can now be flown. Fire Chief Alan Griffin told WECT that since lifeguards communicate signals through flags, flying one that's not in the book may pose a serious problem.
"Each [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 what's 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."
Aside from the safety concern, Griffin added that staff members shouldn't "take stances while on duty for whatever cause it is, no matter how good it is or how bad it is." City officials issued a warning to Hupp and said they plan to use this case as an example to teach their employees about professionalism and responsibility. "We definitely don't want them engaging in things that aren't day-to-day operations," Griffin said.
Hupp said he was overwhelmed by all this flap over the rainbow flag. "I’m honestly surprised it became as big of a deal as it has,” he said.
Watch the report below.