This Harvey Milk Day, a group of Rancho Santa Margarita residents are memorializing the first openly-gay man elected to higher office in America by calling on their city to fly the LGBTQ+ Pride Flag at city hall.
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Santa Ana became the first city in the county to fly the flag at city hall in 2015, followed by Anaheim, Irvine, Costa Mesa and Laguna Beach. Huntington Beach is the newest city to join the group this year after a 6-0 vote last month.
The Pride Flag has been a subject of controversy at the Orange County Fair & Event Center, where it has flown year-round since 2019, despite repeated calls by some people to take it down. Also since 2019, the flag also flies on the main flagpole of the State Capitol building in Sacramento during June.
However, smaller Orange County cities are following suit: Aliso Viejo flies the Pride Flag during June, and now, Rancho Santa Margarita is pushing toward the same goal.
After a past rejection, more than 1100 people signed a petition asking Rancho Santa Margarita officials to fly the flag during Pride Month to show support for the community. Orange County community members will gather Saturday to rally in front of city hall to promote the petition and further urge the city to raise the flag.
Rancho Santa Margarita residents, Maribeth Buczacki and Nina Mehrnouche, worked together to organize the petition and today’s rally.
“When my daughter started middle school, she had friends who were confused, depressed, and thought that there was something wrong with them,” Mehrnouch said. “I have a lot of friends in the LGBTQ community, and I stand with them. This is the easiest thing we can do; just fly a flag.”
Another rally — which gathered about 35 people — occurred last year, but no action was taken from the city. Additionally, last year’s petition collected about 600 signatures. Since the petition was handed in last July, city officials told Mehrnouche that they would research the issue further and consider the addition for this year’s Pride Month.
“We are hoping that since they had a whole year and more cities have been joining in to fly the flag, that with more signatures maybe we can make it happen,” Mehrnouch said.
Buczacki, who grew up in Louisiana and identifies as bisexual, explained the importance of flying the Pride Flag: safety, security and unity.
“Seeing that outward sign of support from someone in a position of power would mean the world,” Buczacki said. “It’s also incredibly welcoming when you are a member of the LGBTQ+ community and you see that. You know that it’s a safe place, you know that you are going to be okay.”
Buczacki hopes that flying the Pride Flag in Rancho Santa Margarita will send a message that Orange County has changed
“People say that Orange County is where you go if you’re Conservative, and LA County is where you go if you’re the crazy wild Liberal, but it’s not true,” Buczacki said. “There’s plenty of Liberal and Progressive people here in Orange County as there are Conservative.”
Organizers timed their rally to occur on Saturday, which is Harvey Milk Day in California. This day commemorates Harvey Milk, the first openly-gay man elected to public office in California as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in the late 1970s.
Milk was responsible for passing gay rights ordinances in San Francisco and served 11 months in office before he was killed in 1978. Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger officially signed Harvey Milk Day into state law in 2009.
The Orange County’s Board of Supervisors presented a proclamation honoring Milk for the first time in 2013.
Santa Ana began recognizing May 22 as Harvey Milk Day in 2010, but it’s unclear how many other Orange County cities, if any, honor the occasion.
Support in the Rancho Santa Margarita petition nearly doubled within the year, a change Buczacki hopes will result in the city becoming the next in Orange County to fly the Pride Flag during the month of June.
“I am absolutely thrilled by the support we’ve gotten,” Buczacki said. “I’m excited because there’s also more of an interest from not just the local community, but national and international. It’s a very easy way to show support for not just local LGBTQ+ communities, but for people who would be looking to move to the city and for people who would be coming to visit.”
After inquiries from Voice of OC, no Rancho Santa Margarita city officials responded for comment.
At a time when LGBTQ+ rights are at risk, Buczacki believes visibility for the LGBTQ+ community is necessary to make progress.
“Especially in the wake of so many states passing laws against trans youth, specifically in sports, I think it is incredibly important especially for the kids who are questioning their sexuality or gender identity to know that they are supported and loved by not just their families but their community as well,” Buczacki said.