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Pride Flags are increasingly going up in Orange County in honor of LGBTQ+ Pride Month in June, like in Garden Grove where it failed to gain enough City Council support in the past.

The flags have been going up in cities all across the county including Anaheim, Aliso Viejo, Costa Mesa, Laguna Beach and Santa Ana — the first city to raise it back in 2015.

Garden Grove council members voted 6-0 to post a rainbow banner on the clock tower near city hall. They also declared June LBGTQ+ Pride Month. 

Councilman Patrick Phat Bui was absent.

The decision came after City Councilwoman Kim Nguyen raised concerns on social media that two of her colleagues were pushing back on the idea she originally proposed at a meeting on May 11.

Nguyen didn’t receive any objections to putting the banner up at the May 11 meeting, but that changed days later. 

So the councilwoman requested it be brought up again at Tuesday’s meeting.

Councilman George S. Breitigam III said the issue was not about the flag, but about the proper protocol of bringing items before the council and one of transparency.

“My only concern is we need to do things under the cover of daylight, not in the back rooms, like things used to be done in this city, not under the cover of darkness. Not surprising everyone at the end,” he said. “I totally question the legal theory that silence equals consent. If that were true, there’d be a lot fewer rapists in the prisons today. It does not equal consent.”

Nguyen shot back saying she did follow policy and it was a transparent process.

“To say that I didn’t follow policy procedures is BS,” she said. “There was plenty of transparency. If you do not support the LGBTQ community and are against putting the banner then just say that. Don’t hide behind the excuse of saying that something wasn’t transparent.”

In the past, the clock tower was lit up in rainbow colors during Pride month, but the city didn’t fly the Pride Flag at city hall. 

Prior to the meeting, Nguyen told Voice of OC there was an effort to raise the Pride Flag at city hall two years ago but failed. Some expressed concerns that other flags, like that of the Communist party, would be able to go up too.

A compromise was made to put up the lights.

Some of the residents who came out two years ago in support of the sign returned to the council chambers Tuesday night to urge the council once again to fly the flag. 

“LGBTQ youth find the strength and joy to endure all the crap in their life from seeing things like rainbow flags and rainbow stickers in public,” said Uyen Hoang, the Executive Director of VietRainbow of Orange County

“Flying the flag is not going to change all the problems that LGBTQ community members in Garden Grove face but it’s a tiny, tiny gesture that can make someone — just one person —  feel just a little bit more seen,” Hoang said.

Many pointed out the mental health struggles people in the LGBTQ+ community face.

Roughly three-quarters of LGBTQ youth reported to have experienced discrimination at least once in their life, while 42% of that same group seriously considered suicide, according to a 2021 national survey on LGBTQ youth mental health done by The Trevor Project.

“The pride flag means a lot. It means that as leaders in the community you’re siding with us and you’re saying the community is here to protect our right to exist and live with dignity,” said Stephanie Wade, co-chair of the Lavender Democrats of Orange County.

Wade said it costs virtually nothing to raise the flag. 

“It costs you almost nothing to raise that Pride Flag and it does a world of good but it’ll cost you a lot in terms of civility. We’ve been through an awful time in this country for the past four, five years or so in division and hate and my community has taken the brunt of a good deal of it.”

Garden Grove joins a host of cities who are rethinking their stances on the Pride Flag in recent weeks.

The LGBT pride flag. Credit: FILE PHOTO

This past weekend, Huntington Beach raised the Pride Flag for the first time at city hall, the pier, the Senior Center and the Central Library in honor of Harvey Milk Day — the first openly-gay man elected to public office in California.

“Every city should make that determination based on what their residents want,” said Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr in a Tuesday phone interview.

Carr said residents were calling for the banner to go up and that there was a need for it. The flags will fly in Huntington Beach until the end of June.

While many spoke in favor of the flag and its importance, not everyone in Huntington Beach was thrilled with the idea.

“I would like to beg the council to please focus and do the job you were elected to do, which is to oversee public safety, financial solvency and infrastructure for all citizens of Huntington Beach,” one person said at a council meeting earlier this month. “Frankly, I’m embarrassed of Huntington Beach to even consider such an idea.”  

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Fullerton usually lifts their Pride Flag on Harvey Milk Day, but this year they didn’t because they lost their flag.

People from around the county started to send the city Pride Flags when they didn’t see the flag go up this weekend and learned that it had gone missing.

Ahmad Zahra, one of the few LGBTQ+ city council members in Orange County, said Tuesday afternoon that the flag still has not been raised. He also added that he reminded interim city manager Steve Danley about it earlier last week.

“Honestly, If I knew I would have bought one,” Zahra said. “To have this kind of pushed aside as if it’s not important — it really speaks volumes about how we have to continue to struggle to even get some symbolic recognition.”

For Zahra, raising the flag is a symbol that says the LGBTQ+ is part of the Orange County community and it is about visibility.

“This is about acknowledgement and respect and it’s something that symbolizes the dignity that our community deserves,” he said.

But not every city is raising a Pride Flag next month.

In Rancho Santa Margarita, elected officials are resisting pressure from some residents to raise the banner. According to organizers, about 50 people rallied at city hall on Saturday for the Flag to go up.

[ Read: On Harvey Milk Day, Rancho Santa Margarita Residents Rally to Join Other Orange County Cities Flying Pride Flag ]

The Rancho Santa Margarita City Council will meet today at 7 p.m. There is no discussion on the flag on the agenda.

Protesters gather in front of Irvine City Hall June 23, 2020, to rally for flying the pride flag over City Hall. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

In Irvine — where the debate has popped up several times over the years — City Council members approved raising the Pride Flag over city hall last year after previous attempts failed.

The debate has played out at the Orange County Fairgrounds as well.

The Pride Flag representing members of the LGBTQ+ community currently flies year-round at the fairgrounds. Credit: GARRETT TROUTMAN, Voice of OC

The Fairgrounds hoisted their Pride Flag back in 2019 and has received some public outcry for that decision ever since. Others have come out to support the decision to have the banner wave year round.

In the end, fair officials resisted the calls to take the banner down.

Angelina Hicks contributed to the reporting in this article.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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