The Rainbow flag, a symbol for LGBTQ+ communities around the world, likely won’t be raised at Huntington Beach City Hall in June as it has for the past couple years when Pride month is celebrated.
Huntington Beach City Council members voted 4-3 Tuesday night to nix flying the Pride flag – along with a host of others – when they introduced a new flag ordinance mandating which flags can be hoisted on city properties.
Councilmembers Dan Kalmick, Natalie Moser and Rhonda Bolton were the dissenting votes.
Kalmick called the ordinance bad public policy.
“It’s of course a ban on the city flying the Pride flag. Call it what it is,” he said at Tuesday’s meeting. “We’ve flown the pride flag for two years and the world didn’t end.”
Kalmick and Moser said the move would impact the city’s tourist revenue.
Councilman Pat Burns, who spearheaded the ordinance, said the policy is not specifically targeting the Pride flag at the Feb. 7 city council meeting.
“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,” he said.
The city’s change comes after the flag was first raised in 2021, joining a host of other cities in flying the Pride flag that year. The ordinance needs to come back for a second approval vote by the city council and will become law 30 days after that.
Tuesday’s council vote also comes months after the OC Human Relations Commission put out the annual hate crime report in September which showed an 83% increase in hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community in 2021.
Hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community have increased by 2,100% since 2017, according to the commission.
Gretchen Dawson, a Huntington Beach resident, said she and her wife have faced such hate in her hometown.
“It sends a signal that we’re not safe here,” she said during public comment. “Safety is the biggest reason why we fly the Pride flag … by taking it away – not flying it – you are communicating to me that we don’t deserve safety.”
Blue Shield of California Foundation – a private foundation funded by the health plan – announced they would not hold their retreat in the city because of the new flag policy.
“The city council’s action to remove the Pride Flag matters to us because it undermines our mission and puts a vulnerable population at risk of further harm. LGBTQ+ communities are subject to high rates of health inequities and domestic violence,” wrote Debbie Chang, President and CEO of the Foundation, in an email to councilmembers.
Councilman Casey McKeon criticized the letter and questioned if Blue Shield sent letters to other Orange County cities for their flag policies.
“I don’t know why they are trying to blackmail us economically,” he said. “I think it’s time to do a refresh to see what other healthcare providers would be interested in our business, which our taxpayers are footing the bill deserve.”
For about three hours, residents gave their thoughts on the flag policy, including a city employee.
“If you vote yes, tonight, you are telling the citizens of Huntington Beach these things: The LGBTQ+ community is not welcome here. The staff and those that identify with that community are not welcome here,” said Leslie Edwards – a Senior Geographic Information Systems analyst for Surf City.
Frank Rodriguez, who identified himself as an executive member of Gays Against Groomers, said the Pride flag doen’t represent him and ripped it up during his public comment period.
Don Kennedy, a city planning commissioner appointed by Burns, spoke in favor of the flag policy change, calling the U.S. flag “the most inclusive flag in the world” and Huntington Beach a welcoming place that represents freedom, diversity and equality.
“The council’s choice to limit what flags fly on government property is not an attack on any of these ideals,” he said.
“Conversely, it’s an act of inclusion, because it says to the residents that the government is not in the business of picking cause flags because there are many and if we pick one and not another than that act itself becomes exclusionary.”
Stephanie Wade, a former Marine Corps infantry officer who ran for Seal Beach City Council last year as an openly transgender woman, had a different point of view on the national flag.
“I love the American flag. I fly the American flag in my home,” she said. “I love the United States, but the United States hasn’t always loved people like me. In fact, the government has been a source of oppression, a tool of oppression for many years for LGBT people.”
Tuesday’s vote is a reversal of the direction the previous city council took in 2021 in which a majority of council members then voted to annually fly the LGBTQ+ flag over city hall during June.
“My vote to fly the Pride flag was to treat a group that has been marginalized, discriminated against and murdered for who they are differently. And to show them that their democratically elected government, represented by the stars and stripes, sees them as a member of the community,” Kalmick said Tuesday about his 2021 vote.
Former Mayors Kim Carr and Barbara Delgleize, who both voted in favor of flying the flag in 2021, called on the council to drop the proposed flag policy in an Op-ed in the Daily Pilot.
Dave Sullivan, also a former mayor, advocated for the flag policy at Tuesday’s meeting.
Debates on flying the pride flag have popped up all across Orange County in recent years including at the County fair grounds.
[Read: Orange County Fair Officials Resist Continued Calls to Take Down Pride Flag]
Flags have gone up in cities all across the county including Anaheim, Aliso Viejo, Costa Mesa, Laguna Beach, Fullerton, Irvine, Garden Grove and Santa Ana — the first city to raise it back in 2015.
In 2019, the Fountain Valley City Council voted to ban flying any non-governmental flags on city property.
In 2021, Rancho Santa Margarita officials faced pressure from residents to raise the LGBTQ+ flag during Pride month.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
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