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Residents enraged as city votes to ban Pride flag from government buildings

A rainbow flag behind barbed wire
Photo: Shutterstock

In an action directly aimed at banning the Pride flag from being flown, the City Council of Huntington Beach, California has voted to exclusively allow government flags to be flown over City Hall.

In 2021, the City Council voted unanimously to fly the Pride flag in June to honor Pride month, but many are now arguing doing so is discriminatory against other groups.

Councilman Pat Burns (R), who led the effort to ban the flag, said in a statement that the city “should avoid actions that could easily or mistakenly be perceived as divisive” and that “All are equally valued members of our community, and none are to be treated differently or discriminated against.”

He did not mention the Pride flag specifically but said the city should only fly the American flag, the California state flag, the POW/MIA flag, the Huntington Beach City flag, and occasionally, the Orange County flag. The only other previously approved flag was indeed the Pride flag.

During the public comment period, Burns tried to claim that “it’s not about getting rid of the Pride flag.”

“I believe we are all equal and we don’t need titles or anything,” he said, “and that our flags we have that represent our government are what’s important to unify us and get over this divisive titling.” 

Burns also reportedly said he has both a gay niece and gay nephew who he loves. “But in my family, we recognize everyone equally… Let’s just stick with our beautiful American flag and everything else.”

Citizens were overwhelmingly against the change in rules during the two-hour public comment period. In addition to those speaking, many letters were sent to the city about the issue. Of those letters, 228 supported keeping the Pride flag while only 46 supported banning it, according to Voice of OC.

During the debate, Stonewall Democratic Club Alex Mohajer pleaded with the council not to do this.

“That rainbow flag celebrates what makes us different. It says, ‘There’s a place for me here.’ … Please do not divide this community.”

“So you want to avoid actions that could be perceived as divisive? I don’t think that’s going too well for you this evening,” said another commenter, Margaret Robinson. “I’m a realist, I know this will pass 4-3, but my positive take on this whole debacle is we now see who you are and how you intend to govern.”

One commenter in support of banning the flag proclaimed, “Huntington Beach is inclusive. The notion that we need a flag to say that is absurd.”

Robinson was correct that the new rules passed along party lines in a 4-3 vote, and the Democratic councilmembers were not pleased.

“It makes us look like the city everybody expects us to be. I don’t believe we are that city, I believe we’re better than that,” said Councilmember Natalie Moser (D), who worried banning the Pride flag maintains the city’s reputation as the “Florida of California.”

“A flag functions as a message,” Moser said, “and so does its removal.”

Many have also spoken out about the issue on social media.

California state Sen. Dave Min (D) said that “voting to end the flying of the Pride Flag during Pride Month would send the wrong message – a message of intolerance and division… I urge the City of Huntington Beach to rise to this occasion and boldly affirm its commitment to equality and diversity, where everyone feels safe, appreciated, and valued.”

State Assemblyman Rick Chavez Zbur (D), former Executive Director of Equality California, said he’s “appalled” at the decision to ban the Pride flag and that “the City has sent a message that LGBTQ ppl are not welcome, and is condoning those who target and hate our community.”

Peter Levi, Regional Director of the Orange County/Long Beach Anti-Defamation League, wrote a letter to the City Council opposing the new ordinance.

“The Pride Flag is not political,” it said. “It is about identity and celebrating the LGBTQ+ community. Celebrating the rich diversity of the Huntington Beach community is not a political statement and prohibiting the display of pride flags because they are allegedly ‘divisive’ sends a dangerous message to the LGBTQ+ community and allies.”

After the council voted, the Los Angeles LGBT Center posted a scathing statement against the decision.

“Huntington Beach officials landed on a cliche and reductive approach to making headlines: marginalizing queer Californians (and potentially, millions of tourists) in one fell swoop,” said CEO Joe Hollendoner. “It’s alarming and embarrassing that in 2023, on the heels of 150+ anti-LGBTQ legislations ravaging the country, this is what municipal employees are focusing on—not the unhoused, gun safety, or the care of our seniors.”

“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. 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.”

“We will not be relegated to a closeted existence as those days are long behind us, and our people will always find a way to fly our flag loud and proud. I hope the elected officials who voted in favor of the flag ban remember that representation matters, and that the LGBTQ+ community will work tirelessly to elect representatives who champion our rights.”

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