Apodaca: Huntington Beach move to narrow flag rules is about exclusion

The Pride flag flutters in the wind.
Daily Pilot columnist Patrice Apodaca believes a new Huntington Beach City Council rule that effectively prohibits flying the LGBTQ Pride flag outside City Hall is discriminatory.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Projection is the mental process by which people attribute to others what is in their own minds.

Huntington Beach might just have provided us with a spot-on example of how projection works when the City Council this month voted to forge ahead with a plan that would, in effect, prevent the city from flying the rainbow LGBTQ Pride flag.

The reason given for the divisive move was to avoid divisiveness. Which sounds a lot like: We’re not dividing and excluding people, you are, with your emblem celebrating qualities of love, acceptance and inclusion. Classic projection.

Not surprisingly, the news was picked up by media outlets across the country and even, at least in one instance that I found, by foreign press, in this case a publication in the United Kingdom. So more controversy and bad publicity for a city that covets tourist dollars. Smart move, Huntington Beach.

This episode marks a sad step backward for the city, which has, in recent years, made halting progress toward shaking off the shadow of its troubled history and reputation for intolerance. That progress was exemplified when, in 2021, then-Mayor Kim Carr spearheaded a resolution, along with Councilman Dan Kalmick, to fly the Pride flag from May 22 — Harvey Milk Day, the birthday of the slain civil rights activist who was the first openly gay man elected to public office in California — through the month of June, which is LGBTQ Pride Month.

It’s also an unnecessary use of valuable city government time and resources. The City Council chose to pass a measure that accomplished nothing, other than insulting and degrading many of its residents. Meanwhile, there are real — as in not imaginary — problems that require its full attention, such as homelessness and creating a plan to add more affordable housing.

The new ordinance that would prohibit the Pride flag from being flown on city property was proposed by Councilman Pat Burns, and supported by a one-vote majority. Mayor Tony Strickland, Mayor Pro Tem Gracey Van Der Mark and Casey McKeon also voted in favor.

Council members Kalmick, Natalie Moser and Rhonda Bolton dissented.

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The Pride flag was designed in 1978 by artist Gilbert Baker, who was encouraged to develop the symbol by Milk. The design has undergone changes over the years, but its original intent — to serve as a positive representation of LGBTQ pride, unity and empowerment — endures.

Burns didn’t explicitly refer to the Pride flag in his statement. Instead the ordinance limits the city from displaying any flags other than those on a narrow list.

“As a municipal organization, the city of Huntington Beach should avoid actions that could easily or mistakenly be perceived as divisive,” he stated. “In keeping with the proper role of municipal government and in the spirit of true unity, the city of Huntington Beach should only fly or display on city-owned property the American, POW/MIA, state of California, and the Huntington Beach city flags.”

He defended the proposal, arguing that it wasn’t discriminatory and not specifically aimed at the Pride flag — even though it was the only previously approved flag that didn’t make the new list.

“It has nothing to do with segregating or being anything else to another group,” he said. “It has nothing to do with that. It’s recognizing we are one.”

Burns implied that his love for his gay relatives is evidence that the measure wasn’t meant to be discriminatory. That hollow argument calls to mind the widely ridiculed “I have Black friends, therefore I couldn’t possibly be racist” claim.

He might not have been intentionally obtuse, but make no mistake, his plan will understandably be viewed as a ploy to ban the Pride flag. Worse, it will be seen as a clear signal that the city is pulling up the welcome mat for segments of the population that have long been targets for bigotry, hate and violence.

That dissenting council members and public commenters delivered impassioned pleas to rethink the proposal clearly demonstrates that they consider it to be exactly what Burns denies: divisive and discriminatory.

For too long, people identifying as LGBTQ have been misunderstood and ostracized. They have often been forced to live in hiding. That’s changing, but some among us — a minority, I trust — continue to cling to a flawed vision of what is worthy of acceptance.

Perhaps at some point they will realize that it does no good to project their own fears, unkind judgments and discriminatory instincts onto others or to use their projection as rationale for bad policy. The rest of us see through the tired excuses.

Let’s hope that one day they’ll open their hearts and minds enough to listen and begin to understand that we humans come in a variety of stripes and colors — a rainbow, if you will. All should be welcome.

I can think of a good place to start: Let the Pride flag fly.

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