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O.C. Fair Board, troubled by delay in announcing rainbow flag theft, studies how to respond to hate crimes

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This rainbow flag, a symbol of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community, was stolen from a flagpole at the OC Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa three days after it was hoisted June 8.
(File Photo)

The Orange County Fair Board’s frustration with the fact that three days passed before the recent theft of an LGBTQ pride flag from the fair headquarters was announced will be channeled into a potential new policy on how to publicly respond to bias-driven crimes on the Costa Mesa property.

The rainbow flag, which has been replaced, was stolen from the OC Fair & Event Center on June 11, three days after it was raised for the first time at the fairgrounds following a Fair Board vote in May.

Board member Andreas Meyer — who brought the flag idea forward to show members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community that they are welcome and safe at the state-owned fairgrounds — said at Thursday’s board meeting that the theft was a hate crime and that it was critical to acknowledge it quickly.

“The fact that that would get torn down is something we have a duty, I believe, to be transparent about,” Meyer said. “What that is saying is that maybe this property isn’t safe for the LGBTQ community because somebody can get on our property and do that.”

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Board member Natalie Rubalcava-Garcia agreed.

“How somebody was able to access the pole, get up there and not ever be seen is baffling to me as well,” she said.

The theft occurred on a Tuesday. The fairgrounds did not release a statement until Friday afternoon, when it did so at the urging of board Chairman Robert Ruiz.

“We are extremely disappointed that this offensive act occurred, because it goes against the message of community and inclusion that we believe in,” Ruiz said at the time. “The OCFEC board supports every community and promotes a safe and welcoming environment for all at our fairgrounds.”

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Fair & Event Center Chief Executive Kathy Kramer said she immediately reported the theft to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, which was cautious about announcing it, unsure whether the act could escalate or lead to copycat crimes.

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Carrie Braun said Thursday that she couldn’t say for sure what deputies recommended to fairgrounds staff. But typically, she said, it’s better not to reveal too much about an investigation to outstanding suspects.

She said the theft is still being investigated.

Board member Ashleigh Aitken, who brought 100 miniature rainbow flags to plant around the grounds after Thursday’s meeting, said the fairgrounds can’t defer to police on how to protect marginalized communities.

“We need to really take that on ourselves,” she said.

Meyer said “there needs to be some very clear guidelines about the kinds of public statements we expect this institution to make … with no qualifications on it, when a hate crime is committed on this property.”

The board will further study how to respond to such crimes.

The cities of Costa Mesa and Laguna Beach have approved displaying the rainbow flag at their respective city halls from Harvey Milk Day on May 22 through June, which is LGBT Pride Month. The fairgrounds flag is to fly year-round.

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