Roseville residents asked to fly the rainbow Pride flag at City Hall. Council members said no
Despite the urging of residents, officials in a Northern California city this week voted not to allow the display of commemorative flags — including the rainbow Pride banner — at government buildings.
The Roseville City Council on Wednesday voted 4 to 1 in favor of upholding the current practice, which limits city-owned properties to flying only U.S., California and Roseville flags, in addition to POW-MIA flags at two veterans memorials.
The decision comes at the height of Pride month. More than 30 residents — many adorned in rainbow attire — attended the meeting and asked the council to consider a motion that would allow them to fly the Pride flag in recognition of the LGBTQ community.
The iconic rainbow flag would be flown in addition to, and not in place of, the standard flags.
“There are young people in this community who every day, on their way home from school, are spat on and beat up for being LGBT,” Pastor Casey Tinnin of Loomis Basin Congregational Church said. “We know that a flag cannot change all of those things. We are well aware of that. But this is a start.”
But the council largely demurred.
Councilwoman Pauline Roccucci said the committee was there to discuss flag policy and not social norms. Councilman Tracy Mendonsa said the city should avoid labels and uphold a uniform standard across the board.
Mayor Krista Bernasconi said that she did not want the flag pole to become politicized and worried that enabling the council to approve or deny requests for commemorative flags would put it in the precarious position of having to “pick winners and losers.”
“I don’t want our flag pole to be at the council’s discretion, ... I think that leads us down a really dangerous road,” she said, noting that she had received emails from community members both in support of and opposition to the proposal for a more lenient policy. “I think that a commemorative flag itself creates unintended consequences.”
Gilbert Baker hand-stitched and dyed the original rainbow flag for the 1978 Gay Freedom Parade in San Francisco. A piece of the original fabric has made it back to the city.
Only one council member, Scott Alvord, voted against upholding the current rules and allowing additional flags to be flown.
During the meeting, Alvord spoke about an experience he’d had with one of his children, who is gay.
“We had a conversation about the rainbow flag,” he said, “and he explained to me very clearly how it’s going to send a message. The flag — or the lack of the flag — sends a message.”
Reached by phone Friday, Alvord said he was disappointed by the council’s vote and noted that he has spoken with young people and adults in Roseville’s LGBTQ community who have described persecution and bullying in the past.
He described Roseville as a conservative area. The city, located about 20 miles northeast of Sacramento, is home to around 140,000 residents. About 39% of its registered voters are Republican and 33% are Democrats, according to the California secretary of state.
Alvord said he called for the creation of a formal flag policy during a City Council meeting in May. The council requested two options: one that would uphold the traditional standards and one that would allow for the addition of commemorative flags. The former is the one that was approved.
“Technically, it was about policy, but I think behind the scenes everybody kind of knew what it was really about,” he said.
Willing to reconsider, Republican Mayor Jerry Dyer of Fresno urges others to be less dug in to partisanship.
Roseville is not the first city to grapple with the issue of flying the Pride flag. Earlier this month, Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer reversed his decision not to fly a rainbow flag, stating that he changed his mind after hearing from constituents.
And Huntington Beach raised the flag at its City Hall for the first time last month.
Flags at government buildings also can touch on 1st Amendment issues, Senior Deputy City Atty. Joe Speaker said during the meeting, which is partly why the council wanted to set a formal policy. Speaker noted that flags and flagpoles owned and maintained by the city are not intended to serve for free expression by the public but rather are a nonpublic forum.
The vote Wednesday was not about the Pride flag specifically but about whether the council would have the ability to display all commemorative flags at its discretion.
“Everyone’s got a flag,” Mendonsa said in opposition to the change. “Everybody’s got a cause. But we have to be cognizant when we make policies ... as to how we represent.”
Mendonsa noted that the city’s police and fire departments have the option of wearing various patches on their uniforms, including rainbow-colored patches during Pride month.
Bernasconi also said that Roseville has a nondiscrimination policy and that the council had created a rainbow-colored “We Are Roseville” banner, which is on the city’s website.
Many residents said it wasn’t enough.
Pride Month is being celebrated in L.A. and around the world.
“This policy is an important policy,” Susan Conforti, president of LGBTQ advocacy group PFLAG Greater Placer County, said Friday. “Having children recognize that their city is on their side — that their city is committed to diversity and inclusion and equity — that makes a big difference.”
Immediately after the vote Wednesday, residents could be heard protesting the decision, with one person stating, “Shame on you, Roseville.”
Ellen Debach-Riley, a Roseville resident who was at the meeting, said the outcry was a silver lining.
“A high percentage of the people there were young people that probably have never experienced local government,” she said. “Now they have witnessed it themselves. I think maybe we might have some new activists born.”
PFLAG Greater Placer County is now working to organize its second annual Pride event in downtown Roseville, Conforti said, which will take place in front of City Hall in September.
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