OC Fair & Event Center Board votes to keep pride flags raised year round

The pride flag flies over the OC Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa on  Nov. 19, 2020.
A pride flag flies at the OC Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa in Nov. 2020. After a months-long debate over whether they should be removed, board members decided Thursday to keep them year round.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

After months of debate over whether pride flags at Costa Mesa’s Orange County Fair & Event Center grounds constitute a symbol of welcome for all or are an act of exclusion, board members voted 6-1 Thursday to let them wave.

The vote to reaffirm a June 2019 resolution allowing the banners to fly year round was the first action taken by the board since a handful of residents began requesting in July the rainbow flags, a symbol of pride in the LGBTQ community, be removed.

Opponents said the act omitted other groups, identities and organizational interests that might want to see their own flags raised. In the months that followed, more members of the public spoke out both for and against removing the standards.

The topic dominated a Jan. 20 meeting of the Community Affairs Committee, formed to address issues of diversity and public outreach, though the matter was not on the agenda. Board member Robert Ruiz, who sits on the committee, said he hoped the board could resolve the matter so the panel could focus on other issues.

More than two dozen speakers once more shared their viewpoints, which bore out the results of an online public survey that showed a deeply divided constituency.

Among 697 respondents, 135 recommended keeping the current flag display, while 125 said the fairgrounds should fly other flags, too. Another 289 suggested simply removing the pride flag, while 106 favored a “unity flag” that would represent a broader diversity.

Board member Barbara Bagneris said she favored flying the pride flag during the month of June, recognized nationally as LGBTQ pride month, but not all year round.

“Look what this has caused today, to have all this public discourse around a flag,” she said. “And we brought it on ourselves. When you elevate one, you marginalize the others.”

But other board members defended the flag as a sign of inclusivity for all groups, voting 6-1 to reaffirm the resolution, with Bagneris opposed and Newton Pham absent. Ashleigh Aitken described a rainbow as a symbol of the diverse components inherent in a single ray of light and encouraged people to find a part of the pride flag that resonated with them.

“My ask to the public would be that we all find at least one thread in that flag’s fabric that speaks to us,” she said. “If we can do that, that is progress. And that is why the flag is important.”

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