A narrow majority of Orange County Supervisors on Tuesday voted to ban the rainbow Pride Flag from flying on all County of Orange properties, including the Civic Center and public parks.
Their vote restricts flags hoisted at the county to OC, state and national flags, along with a flag for U.S. prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action.
Pride banners don’t currently fly outside county offices and properties, but Tuesday’s vote bans it and others from making their way up the flagpoles.
The ban on the iconic symbol for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people was requested by Supervisor Andrew Do and supported by Supervisors Don Wagner and Doug Chaffee in the beginning of LGBTQ+ Pride month.
They said that flying any flag in advocacy of a group of people would open their policymaking sessions up to “divisive” public forums.
“It’s a distraction,” said Chaffee. “It takes me away from really working to make the county better.”
Do argued his proposal wasn’t motivated by any one cause or social issue and that he has routinely supported the LGBTQ+ community.
People who opposed the Pride Flag praised Do’s proposal during Tuesday’s public comment – calling the symbol “divisive” and “sinful” – and looked on as Do attempted to dissuade any notion he was targeting it.
Do recounted the times he helped transgender people get vaccinated against COVID-19 and hired a gay man to the county’s top public health leadership role.
Wagner, however, made it clear that his support for Do’s proposal was indeed a response to flying the Pride Flag.
“It is not a coincidence that this policy is in front of us right now. It is not a coincidence that we’re considering it today for the first time in the more than 100 years of this County’s existence,” he said at Tuesday’s meeting.
“We’re considering it today, in response to the divisive effort to fly one particular flag. So yes, there absolutely is a connection,” Wagner said.
Supervisors Vicente Sarmiento and Katrina Foley, who wore pins in support of the Pride Flag during the discussion, voted against the ban, arguing their colleagues were capitulating to hate.
“By taking the stance today of banning the Pride Flag, which is what this is tantamount to, at all of our county buildings, our county board offices, other than in our internal offices, our parks, our airport, our harbors, our beaches, it sends the wrong message to America and to the world,” Foley said.
The county supervisors’ debate got tense with an audience consisting of people who supported the county flying the flag, while others were against the idea.
At one point, Foley asked Do if the flags flown by the OC Sheriff would then violate his new policy.
The police appreciation week flag – “are they not allowed to fly that any more?” Foley said.
“You’re free to ask and I’m free to ignore you,” Do said while some people in the audience laughed.
Toward the vote, Foley told her opposing colleagues:
“I’m through with this discussion but I’m not through with you.”
The idea of flying a Pride Flag on government property is often split down political lines, like most recently in Huntington Beach.
But things played out a little differently on Tuesday.
Chaffee – a Democrat – sided with Republicans Do and Wagner on voting for the flag restriction policy.
Sarmiento and Foley, both Democrats, voted against the policy.
In the lead-up to Tuesday’s regular Board of Supervisors meeting, both Sarmiento and Foley attempted to place a separate proposal on the agenda for a discussion on purchasing and flying the flag on county property.
That request was denied by Wagner, the board’s chairman, who told Voice of OC he went with Do’s request with the idea it would tee-up the entire discussion.
Sarmiento pointed to his hometown of Santa Ana, where he previously served as Mayor, and the similar Pride Flag push back they faced.
“The sky hasn’t fallen, we have not become more divided. We have not separated. If anything, it’s shown that we are inclusive, if anything, it’s shown that we are supportive of those communities that we know have been the targets of hate,” he said.
The decision comes amid a stark rise of hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community.
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.
The action came months after Huntington Beach City Council members voted to implement a similar policy restricting what flags can be raised over city properties.
Fifteen people spoke during the public comment portion of the item – with seven people arguing that policy was aimed at the Pride flag and that not raising the banner was an attempt to erase the community and limit their visibility.
One speaker, Uyen Hoang, Executive Director of Viet Rainbow of OC, addressed Do as a fellow Vietnamese American.
“I remember you coming out to our LGBTQ+ COVID-19 vaccine clinic and I thought, ‘Wow, that’s great. It looks like you care about the LGBTQ communities and what we face.’”
Now she found himself asking him not to go through with a Pride Flag ban.
“As a fellow Vietnamese American, you know how meaningful flags can be to the community. I’m asking you to connect with me on that end so we can bridge some understanding about the issue.”
She then restated her comments for him in Vietnamese.
Brandon Pho 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 @photherecord.
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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