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Rainbow flag removed from atop West Hollywood City Hall

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The rainbow flag atop West Hollywood City Hall has been removed.

After months of public debate over the flag -- which was raised above City Hall in June -- city officials last week removed the flag symbolizing gay pride.

About 40% of West Hollywood’s population identifies as gay or lesbian, according to city surveys. There are rainbow-colored crosswalks at Santa Monica and San Vicente boulevards. And four of the five city council members are gay men.

But city council members in November unanimously voted to maintain the city’s practice of displaying only the United States, California and city of West Hollywood flags on public facilities.

Councilman John Duran said the city is shared by gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and heterosexual people and that the flag’s hanging above City Hall was inappropriate, even if the city was founded largely on gay rights.

West Hollywood “belongs to all of us,” Duran said at one meeting. “It’s not just a city of gay men. It belongs to heterosexual people as well, and City Hall belongs to everybody in this community, gay or straight, and let’s not ever give the impression that City Hall has become exclusive to only one part of the West Hollywood community.”

West Hollywood resident Larry Block suggested the flying of the rainbow flag at a city council meeting in June. Councilman Jeffrey Prang agreed with the suggestion, saying, “There are lots of flags up there; I’m sure there’s room for one more.”

The flag was hung shortly thereafter.

Since then, it has been brought up numerous times at public meetings, with critics saying there were already numerous symbols of West Hollywood’s LGBT activism displayed, such as the rainbow crosswalks.

But Block, who donated a rainbow flag to be flown, said the flag's removal is evidence the city is moving away from its identity as a bastion of hope for LGBT people.

“The shedding of the LGBT identity is happening slowly,” said Block, a city council candidate for the 2015 election. “It’s going with development, straight business owners… There’s just a changing environment in West Hollywood.”

After the flag was raised last summer, people came into Block’s clothing store on Santa Monica Boulevard to hug him, he said.

“West Hollywood is a beacon of hope for gays and lesbians throughout the world,” he said. “When tourists come into town, they’re so proud of the fact that we’re that special place for the LGBT community. … The rainbow flag is an inclusive symbol, not exclusive.”

Block has said the removal of the flag was political because Duran and Prang are running for county offices (Duran for a seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and Prang for county assessor). Block himself is running for a West Hollywood City Council seat in 2015.  

The city will continue to permanently fly rainbow flags in the medians at Santa Monica Boulevard between Robertson and La Cienega boulevards, according to a statement from city officials.

The city council in November voted to allow City Manager Paul Arevalo to decide when and if other flags can be flown at City Hall for special occasions, such as LGBT Pride Month in June. The blue, pink and white transgender flag was flown on a City Hall flagpole for the month of November in recognition of Transgender Awareness Month.  

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hailey.branson@latimes.com

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