O.C. Supervisors say ‘no’ to LGBTQ+ Pride flag on county property
Is the LGBTQ+ Pride flag a symbol of inclusion or a symbol of exclusion?
That depends on which Orange County supervisor you ask.
The supervisors hotly debated this at Tuesday morning’s meeting before coming to a conclusion on a narrowly split vote.
In their first meeting of Pride Month, they voted 3-2 to restrict flags flown on county property — including parks — to the county, state and American flags, as well as the POW/MIA flag.
The vote on the agenda item, introduced by Supervisor Andrew Do and supported by Chairman Don Wagner and Supervisor Doug Chaffee, effectively bars the LGBTQ+ Pride flag from flying on county property.
It echoes a similar vote by Huntington Beach earlier this year. Unlike Surf City, however, the county did not previously have a policy of flying the Pride flag.
Do, who along with Wagner are the two Republicans on the board, said in his comments that his agenda item had nothing to do with any cause or social issue. He added that government flags represent all county residents.
“We don’t need any other symbols surrounding them,” he said. “Today, flags in general have become symbols that invite controversy and division within our community.”
Wagner admitted, however, that the Pride flag specifically was at the heart of Tuesday’s vote, calling the banner “divisive.”
Chaffee, a Democrat seen as the swing vote, said during his initial comments that he wanted more time to think about his vote. In the end, however, he sided with Do and Wagner.
“I like to be neutral, I like to be open to everyone,” Chaffee said. “There’s a reason why this office is nonpartisan ... This is a distraction that takes me away from really working to make the county better, but I’m going to support the motion. I think we need to emphasize more the values in our American flag.”
Supervisors Katrina Foley and Vicente Sarmiento, both Democrats, strongly rebuked the vote and the message it sent about Orange County, which has an estimated 3.2 million people.
Foley asked Do if he had asked any county department heads, or the presiding judge at the county courthouse, if they supported his item.
“This is really a political decision,” Foley said. “As the sixth largest economy in America, as the fourth largest economy in the state of California, as the home of Disneyland, Vans, so many major corporations who are inclusive ... they are supporting Pride. Not because it’s divisive but because it’s inclusive. For me, I think it’s farcical that we are even having this conversation.”
Foley said the county is sending the wrong message to America and to the world.
“We’ve spent millions of dollars investing in suicide prevention,” she said. “But sometimes, suicide prevention is as simple as a rainbow flag flying in the wind on a government building, telling our most vulnerable children we welcome them, and we will keep them safe.”
Foley and Sarmiento had requested a discussion at Tuesday’s meeting to purchase and raise a Pride flag at the Civic Center. But Foley said in an interview Tuesday that the request was filed to the board clerk 15 minutes past deadline.
“The chairman [Wagner] can still add it to the agenda, but the chairman would not sign off on it,” she said, adding that Wagner rejected a separate request for the county to recognize Pride Month as it has done the past two years.
Reaction was swift Tuesday among the local LGBTQ+ community. Neah Lehan, an Irvine native who identifies as LGBTQ+, said the vote was disheartening.
“The Pride flag is not only a symbol of acceptance, it represents support in a time when queer and trans people across America face a hostile legal climate,” Lehan said. “I feel privileged and proud to live in such a safe environment as California. Yet given the chance to show solidarity with our rights to personal self-determination, the county has elected to remain silent.”
Manny Muro is a Huntington Beach resident who identifies as a queer Latinx and is the vice president of OC Pride. He attended an event last month at the Huntington Beach Pier, where the largest rainbow Pride flag in county history was flown.
“It seems like they’re targeting already marginalized communities,” Muro said. “It’s upsetting, to say the least. It’s not only coming from the people in the communities but our community leaders as well.”
Fifteen people discussed the item during public comment, with some in support of the government-only flag proposal and some against.
Roseann DiCostanzo, the Orange County chair of New California State, was one of the speakers in favor of the item. New California State is an organization which seeks to break off many rural inland and California areas to form a new state.
“We should have pride in our country, the United States of America, that has given opportunities for all to be as they wish,” DiConstanzo said. “You do you, I’ll do me. But as a people, we are the United States of America.”
Pride Month events continue in Orange County, as Wednesday night the Los Angeles Angels are celebrating Pride Night at Angel Stadium.
“If you look at all the county social media, for all the departments, everybody is celebrating Pride Month,” Foley said. “It’s really about celebrating the diversity of our community. It’s a symbol of being an inclusive community.”
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