The last time people suspected Orange County Fair officials were rethinking the LGBTQ+ Pride Flag’s place at the fairgrounds in Costa Mesa, a groundswell of public outcry prompted officials last month to distance themselves from the idea of taking it down.
“Of course, if the Board decided to put something up for vote, the public would be made aware of it,” said one of the Governor-appointed Fair Board’s directors, Nicholas Kovacevich, who denied any notion the flag’s fate was in question at a Jan. 28 meeting.
Now the public has indeed been put on notice.
On the agenda for the Fair Board’s next meeting on Feb. 25 is a discussion about the agency’s original resolution to fly the flag — which represents members of the LGBTQ+ community — and whether to change it or reaffirm it as it is.
It comes as critics of the Pride Flag have continued to call for its removal despite fairgrounds officials’ public assurances last month they had no plan to.
“Based on the wide range of public comment, the Community Affairs Committee recommends that the Board review the original resolution and discuss whether to reaffirm or amend,” reads the fair’s staff report attached to the meeting agenda.
It also comes amid a year-long saga of controversy over the flag, which began when the Fair Board — moved by a summer of social justice protests in Orange County and across the U.S. — voted to create a diversity committee and explore how the fair could better represent the county.
Yet in the months following, critics of the flag, such as members of local religious groups, would call in repeatedly to say the flying of the flag wasn’t in the spirit of “diversity” — that it made other groups feel excluded and should be taken down.
Those calls to remove the flag continued throughout the later half of 2020. Fair Board directors began to question the state agency’s diversity efforts. The diversity committee eventually morphed into a new committee that no longer had to hold public meetings.
All the while, the Pride Flag took up most of the conversation while issues lingered around why the annual summer fair showcased an abundance of fried food but a shortage of vendors who represented the county’s large Latino and Asian American communities.
Then, at the beginning of this year, fair officials responding to the Pride Flag’s critics put out a survey gauging public opinion on whether the Pride Flag should stay standing, be removed, or be accompanied by others.
At a Jan. 20 community engagement meeting the next week, fair officials were surprised to find dozens of people flooding the public comment lines to either speak in support or opposition to the flag — while also agreeing that diversity was an issue at the fair.
Kovacevich, responding to the outcry at that meeting, said the Fair Board had no initiative to remove the flag but that the input from that day’s community engagement meeting and results of the survey would be brought back to the Fair Board at its Jan. 28 meeting.
“Nothing has been proposed to take down the flag, so do not worry about that,” he said at the Jan. 20 meeting.
Then came the Jan. 28 meeting.
Critics of the flag again called in demanding the flag’s removal, citing the results of the Pride Flag survey — which fair officials made public that day — showing that of the 697 responses the fair received, 289 people voiced support for removing the flag while 106 supported replacing it with a “unity” flag.
“You have asked the public for their opinion. The public has answered you,” said Cindy Mossaro, who is a frequent critic of the flag at Fair Board meetings. “They have told you to take down the Pride flag and to fly only the American flag, State of California flag, and Orange County Fair flag.”
“It is time now for you to take action on this. Please, put on the agenda at your February meeting and vote to represent the people you serve,” she added.
Fair board watchdog and Anaheim homeless advocate Jeanine Robbins pushed back against the flag’s critics at the same meeting:
“As somebody who has spent probably hundreds of thousands of hours on that property over the last 40 years, I can attest to the way that gay people have been treated on that property during different events, and it is not good.”
She added: “(This) is a group of people who have been marginalized and in some places can actually be killed for being gay. We need to step up and show them that everyone is welcome.”
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @photherecord.