The rainbow-colored LGBT pride flag is now scheduled to fly in front of Santa Ana City Hall for several weeks each year, following a contentious debate and split vote by City Council members Tuesday.
The idea was put forward by Councilman Sal Tinajero, who wanted the flag to fly year-round as a symbol of acceptance and equality for LGBT community members.
“We’re talking about a group of citizens – Americans – who for many many years could not be who they were. You could get arrested if you were at a gay bar,” said Tinajero, who has a gay son.
“We’re standing up for love and we’re standing up for equality, and we’re celebrating that.”
But several of his colleagues said that while they support the LGBT community, displaying the rainbow flag all year would be unfair to other deserving groups, like migrant farm workers, Vietnamese Americans, and African Americans. It could also provoke allegations of favoritism, they argued, if a process wasn’t first put in place to allow other groups to have their flags flown.
Councilman David Benavides said he had received emails and phone calls from people saying that flying the flag would be “too partial to one segment of the community.”
“My concern is that if we took a position to fly the flag that represents one group in our community” it could be a reason for there to be “adverse or negative reaction” towards the LGBT community, he added.
In order to get the measure passed, the flag display was shortened to 40 days per year, starting with Harvey Milk Day on May 22 through the end of June, which is LGBT Pride Month. And council members agreed to set up a system for soliciting flag displays from other groups.
“We also need to recognize the diversity of this community,” said Councilwoman Michele Martinez, who proposed shortening the timeframe. “Let’s make sure that when we decide to have equality, we do it across the board.”
Even with the changes, the measure barely passed on a split 4-3 vote. Joining Tinajero in support were Martinez and council members Vincent Sarmiento, and Angelica Amezcua. Opposing it were Benavides, Mayor Miguel Pulido, and Councilman Roman Reyna.
Council members said many of the phone calls and emails they received were adamantly opposed to flying the flag.
“I received some very very hostile, ugly emails,” some with language “I couldn’t repeat,” said Sarmiento.
But the three members of the public who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting were enthusiastic in their support.
The flag is an “embodiment of love, acceptance and equality of all persons,” said Dave Hoen, a longtime Santa Ana resident and activist. Regardless of one’s gender identity, he added, “that is a philosophy we all should adopt.”
Ian Van Cong, another resident and member of Viet Rainbow of Orange County, echoed those sentiments.
“The decision to fly the rainbow flag, which is a symbol of inclusion…will demonstrate that our city embraces its diversity and sends a welcoming message” to people and business who consider making Santa Ana their home, Cong said.
Pulido said the multiple weeks proposed for the flag is too long, and that it should instead be displayed just on Harvey Milk Day and Pride Day.
Reyna, Benavides and the mayor, meanwhile, wanted the council to hold off on approving the pride flag until they create a process for accepting other groups’ flags, noting that the proposed display is still many months away.
Benavides put forward a motion to set up an ad hoc committee to set up flag-flying procedures first and bring back the issue in a few weeks. "I think we’d be putting the cart before the horse” if we didn’t do that, said Benavides.
But Tinajero remained steadfast in wanting a vote on the measure Tuesday night, and Benavides' motion failed to get a majority.
“I think this is a very reasonable compromise,” he added. “I think we’re sending a horrible message to our gay, lesbian and transgender community that we’re going to nitpick,” Tinajero said.