The Huntington Beach City Council voted on Tuesday to stop flying the rainbow LGBTQ flag over City Hall during Pride Month. The move followed hours of heated debate, and comes just two years after the council voted unanimously to fly the flag from the third week of May to the end of June in commemoration of Pride month. Tuesday’s reversal passed by a 4-3 vote, a decision many are calling harmful and alarming.
The effort to remove the flag was spearheaded by City Council Member Pat Burns, who said in a statement, “As a municipal organization, the City of Huntington Beach should avoid actions that could easily or mistakenly be perceived as divisive. 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.” Burns also states that no one in the community should be treated differently or discriminated against.
Alhough Burns never explicitly mentions the pride flag in his statement, the implication that the flag is a symbol of division or a potential tool of discrimination is something he doubled down on Tuesday. “It’s not about getting rid of the pride flag,” he said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “But in my family, we recognize everyone equally… Let’s just stick with our beautiful American flag and everything else.”
The notion of the flag running in opposition to the effort to “recognize everyone equally” runs in direct contrast to remarks made by Mayor Kim Carr in 2021 when Carr submitted the resolution, along with Councilman Dan Kalmick, to fly the flag in the first place. “When I talked about how the Pride flag represented unity and community, what it really meant as I was thinking about it was freedom,” Carr told the Voice of OC. “That’s the freedom to be who you want to be with no shame, no discrimination and to be accepted. If it just means having that flag there for about four weeks, what’s the harm in that?”
As Tuesday’s debate intensified, Alex Mohajer, president of the Stonewall Democratic Club, pled with council members: “That rainbow flag celebrates what makes us different… It says, ‘There’s a place for me here…’ Please do not divide this community.”
Though those in favor of removing the flag consistently justified their decision by calling the flag divisive, Los Angeles LGBT Center CEO Joe Hollendoner argued that there are dangerous implications in taking it down.
“For a city that prides itself on exercising its rights, it’s abhorrently inexcusable to infringe upon the First Amendment rights of the LGBTQ tax-payers; they’re sending us a clear message of hate and shamelessly putting young, queer lives at stake,” Hollendoner said in a statement. “Huntington Beach’s officials are taking a cue from the political playbooks of extremist politicians across the country—using their hatred of queer and trans people as launching pads for their careers.” Hollendoner goes on to call the decision a “clichéd” and “reductive” approach that only further marginalizes queer Californians.
Others were quick to join criticism of the vote, with California Assembkyman and LGBT civil rights advocate Rick Zbur Tweeting that the decision would send a message to the LGBTQ community that they are not welcome while “condoning those who target and hate our community.”
I’m appalled at the decision last night to prohibit flying the Pride flag over City Hall in Huntington Beach. The City has sent a message that LGBTQ ppl are not welcome, and is condoning those who target and hate our community. https://t.co/fGsfdsEpl0
— Rick Chavez Zbur (@RickChavezZbur) February 8, 2023
Former United States Representative Harley Rouda, meanwhile, called the decision “cowardly,” while Senator Dave Min noted, “The Pride Flag is such an important symbol of inclusion and diversity… At a time when hate and discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community–and other marginalized groups–is at alarming levels… it is more important than ever that our elected leaders make clear that all are welcome and cherished.”
I strongly disagree with the Huntington Beach City Council’s cowardly decision to remove the pride flag from City Hall.
In a time of increasing attacks against the LGBT community, we can and must do more to support them.
— Harley Rouda (@HarleyRouda) February 8, 2023
My official statement to the Huntington Beach city council concerning the proposed removal of the LGBTQ+ Pride Flag from City property. pic.twitter.com/BXBPC38C9v
— Senator Dave Min (@SenDaveMin) February 7, 2023
The numbers were also in favor of keeping the flag, with Voice of OC reporting that over 275 people sent letters to the city—228 in support of keeping the Pride flag flying and 46 wanting it gone.
An symbol of representation and unity, the origins of the flag can be traced back to the late 1970s when Harvey Milk, member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and the first openly gay man elected to public office, asked Gilbert Baker to design a symbol for the gay community. Baker then collaborated with Lynn Segerblom to develop the flag, which debuted at the Gay Freedom Day Parade in 1978.
Huntington Beach, meanwhile, raised the flag over City Hall for the first time on Harvey Milk Day in 2021.
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