Huntington Beach leaders were met with a mix of boos and cheers on Tuesday night as they axed plans to fly the Pride flag this coming June over city hall with a new policy that only allows government flags at city hall.
The council voted 6-0 to fly the Pride flag during June back in 2021, joining a growing number of other cities like Santa Ana and Irvine that have started using the flag to recognize Pride Month.
Republican Councilman Pat Burns, who sponsored the debate, said the city should stick to the practice of only flying the city, state and national flags, along with occasionally flying the county flag and flags supporting prisoners of war and each branch of the military.
“We, the City of Huntington Beach, are one community with many different cultures and people. All are equally valued members of our community, and none are to be treated differently or discriminated against,” Burns wrote, adding that the city “should avoid actions that could easily or mistakenly be perceived as divisive.”
Under that proposed new policy, the city’s existing rules on flying flags would be eliminated, and any shifts would require a vote of the full council through an ordinance.
According to city staff, over 275 people sent letters to the city on the issue of the flag, with 228 in support of the Pride flag remaining up while 46 endorsed the shift in the flag policy.
Some commenters at the meeting said they don’t think it’s the government’s responsibility to weigh in on social issues, and that they should just fly the American flag.
“It’s not the place of government at any level to pick favorites among groups,” said public commenter Steven Quinn. “There is no NRA flag, no Israeli flag, no Christian flag outside of city halls…similarly there should be no flags celebrating a race, creed or gender flag.”
An overwhelming majority of public commenters at city hall on Tuesday night called on the city to continue flying the Pride flag, claiming it wasn’t intended to offend anyone who disagreed with the LGBTQ+ community or exclude the straight community.
“So you want to avoid actions that could be perceived as divisive? I don’t think that’s going too well for you this evening,” said public commenter Margaret Robinson. “I’m a realist, I know this will pass 4-3, but my positive take on this whole debacle is we now see who you are and how you intend to govern.”
The council ultimately voted 4-3 on the issue, along national party lines, with Democratic council members Dan Kalmick, Natalie Moser and Rhonda Bolton voting against the new plan.
Kalmick pointed out how the city already had a flag policy, and that if the concern was over the Pride flag then the council members should just vote against flying that flag but leave the overall policy unchanged.
“Creating this as an ordinance removes our ability as council members to make decisions,” Kalmick said. “We already have the ability to fly these flags. If you don’t want to fly the Pride flag, just make a motion…to eliminate the previous resolution to fly the Pride flag.”
Moser said the removal of the flag sends out a negative message and would reinforce the city’s reputation as the “Florida of California.”
“It makes us look like the city everybody expects us to be. I don’t believe we are that city, I believe we’re better than that,” Moser said.
Republican Councilman Casey McKeon, who voted in favor of the item, kept his remarks brief.
“By definition, inclusion represents everyone equally,” McKeon said, listing every flag in Burns’ memo except the pride flag. “Any other flag listed on this agenda item does not represent every resident equally, it’s as simple as that.”
Burns, who was the original sponsor of the item got the last word on the council dais, saying he brought it forward with a hope for unity, referencing that he had a nephew and niece who are gay and that he recognized them as equals and doesn’t treat them any differently.
“It’s not about getting rid of the Pride flag,” Burns said. “I believe we are all equal and we don’t need titles or anything, and that our flags we have that represent our government are what’s important to unify us and get over this divisive titling.”
The new rules for the flagpole are set to come back at the council’s February 21 meeting for their official adoption.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.