Anaheim to Fly LGBT Flag in Solidarity With Orlando Shooting Victims

The LGBT pride flag. (Photo credit: unknown)

In a show of solidarity with the victims of the massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando earlier this month, the Anaheim City Council Tuesday night decided to fly the rainbow-colored LGBT flag at City Hall for the remainder of the month.

And from now on, according to the proposal by Councilman Jordan Brandman that the council passed unanimously, it will be raised starting every May 22, which is Harvey Milk Day, through the end of every June, which is LGBT Pride Month. It will fly along with the flag bearing the city seal.

The vote was 4-0, with Councilman James Vanderbilt absent because of his reserve duty for the military.

Posters bearing photos of the Orlando shooting victims lined the walls of the council chambers, setting a somber mood for the council discussion. The slaughter in the Pulse nightclub on June 12, which left 50 dead — including the shooter Omar Mateen — and 53 injured, was an attack on all Americans and faiths, and the city has a “responsibility to stand up and say we are with you,” said Brandman, who is openly gay.

Before being killed by police after an hours-long standoff Mateen called 911, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and demanded the United States end its bombing runs in Iraq and Syria.

Most of those in the nightclub were LGBT and Latino, and the shootings have become a painful reminder that, despite the recent progress made for LGBT rights, homophobia remains a powerful and even lethal force.

Flying the rainbow-colored flag is seen by advocates as a direct way to combat homophobia. Brandman read a letter from Laura Kanter, a policy, advocacy and youth director at the LGBT Center OC, who put some of the blame for the shootings on political and religious leaders who demonize LGBT people.

“Orlando was a grotesque reminder of the venom we experience on a smaller scale over and over again, and a reminder of that venom’s power,” Brandman said, reading aloud from Kanter’s letter. “I know that positive change can come from this, and I want to be excited and supportive…. but I am having a hard time not feeling cynical when political will is generated by tragic events.”

Other members of the LGBT community and their supporters also spoke out in favor of the move. Platinum Triangle resident and Brandman ally D.R. Heywood said that, when he was a teenager in the 1980s, he was told being gay would lead to eternal damnation.

Heywood said he felt he had no future until he read an article in the Orange County Register about a few gay men who were out of the closet, and he realized that he wasn’t alone or an “aberration.”

“The flying of the pride flag at city hall, if it can provide hope and support for just one person, then this will all have been worth it,” Heywood said.

Rashad Al-Dabbagh, co-founder and director at the Arab American Civic Council, said he supported raising the flag in solidarity with the victims on behalf of Arabs of all denominations, including Muslims, Christians and atheists.

In a room of more than 20 people, only two spoke out against Brandman’s proposal. One was R Joshua Collins, an activist who champions the rights of homeless people and also condemns Islam and homosexuality. He quoted verses of the bible that denounce sodomy as a sin and said that, if the people killed were drunks, it wouldn’t make sense to fly the Budweiser flag.

Councilwoman Kris Murray was nearly moved to tears and she recounted a story about a father of a dead girl talking about the importance of love.

“Sometimes progress comes in small steps, and we can take small steps and do it together,” Murray said.

Mayor Tom Tait hesitated at first in his support for the action, saying it could set a precedent so any group in the future could also ask to hoist their flag over the building. But as Tait was speaking, a cell phone went off and the ringtone was the Beatles’ song, “All You Need Is Love.”

That drew laughter from the crowd and led Tait say “I’ll just leave it at that right now while I’m contemplating.”

After the public comments and expressions of raw emotion from the audience and the dais, Tait said he realized the need to raise the LGBT flag.

“Right now, there’s a need for solidarity with Orlando and the LGBT community,” Tait said. “So it also has my vote.”

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: @adamelmahrek