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Passing on a chance to hoist LGBTQ symbol, Fountain Valley adopts policy of government-only symbols on flags flown on city property

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The flagpoles outside Fountain Valley City Hall fly the U.S. and California flags, plus a banner recognizing that the city is part of the Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree City USA program.
(Hillary Davis)

Fountain Valley now has a policy that limits flag displays on public property to governmental symbols like the U.S., state and city flags.

Some residents who turned out to the City Council meeting Tuesday night, when the panel unanimously approved the policy, said the city should be ashamed. Several wanted the council to allow display of the rainbow flag, a symbol of the LGBTQ community.

Colin Burns, the city’s attorney, said Fountain Valley occasionally gets outside requests to fly flags other than the usual governmental symbols, but it had no formal policy.

“The policy was drafted in a way to be fair, balanced, concise and easy to administer,” he said. “The thought was the city’s a government entity, so we will choose essentially other U.S. government entities as the framework.”

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Mayor Pro Tem Cheryl Brothers said she didn’t want to pick winners and losers when faced with a special request and that the policy only affects displays on public property, such as City Hall.

“I wanted to see us with a policy that we could defend and that had a bright line that we could point to,” Brothers said.

She asked how people would feel about a request to fly a banner bearing a swastika.

“I can hear moans and groans,” she said.

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But some in the audience used words like “insulting” and “insensitive” to describe her example of the Nazi symbol.

“You’ve compared the LGBT community with white supremacists who kill people,” one woman said.

Seven people spoke, some questioning the policy’s timing — June is LGBT Pride Month — and what they said was an implicit message. All supported flying the rainbow flag.

Susan Meyer said she has been discriminated against most of her life for being lesbian.

“If I was a teenager and … I saw a pride flag that says, ‘OK, Susan, you’re all right, you’re OK and you’re welcome in our community,’ it would have gone a long way,” she said.

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In an image from video, Susan Meyer encourages the Fountain Valley City Council on Tuesday to display the rainbow flag to show members of the LGBTQ community, like herself, that they are welcome in the city.
(Daily Pilot)

The policy names the flags of the United States, California, Fountain Valley, official sister cities and the POW-MIA flag, a federally recognized national symbol, as the only banners allowed on city-owned poles and other city property such as police and fire vehicles.

Burns said last week that he was confident the policy wasn’t motivated by a spate in the past month of local governments flying the LGBTQ pride flag at their headquarters, including Costa Mesa and Laguna Beach city halls and the state-owned OC Fair & Event Center. Anaheim, Fullerton and Santa Ana also have flown the rainbow flag at their city halls.

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Brothers requested at the Feb. 19 council meeting that city staff look into a flag policy for all city facilities.

But resident Libby Frolichman said Tuesday that “after leaving the issue dormant for four months, something prompted our city attorney to look into flying nongovernmental flags just by coincidence during Pride Month?”

Resident Catherine Kozlowski said: “As a queer person, this message reads loud and clear. You didn’t have to say LGBTQ anywhere in it. It’s Pride Month. Cities surrounding us are raising rainbow flags. The O.C. fairgrounds is putting one up permanently. Whether you say it out loud or not appears as a response to that — that not only are we not going to put up the flag but we’re going to prevent it from ever being put up.”

Mayor Steve Nagel said the U.S. flag is a symbol of inclusion.

“I thoroughly believe that the flags that we have flying behind us and out on the patio truly represent what’s good about California and America,” he said, drawing applause from some audience members.

Several times, Nagel tried to quiet people who called out from the audience, and he offered to speak to them after the meeting.

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