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Copenhagen’s mayor calls out tiny California town’s hostile Pride debate

Solvang, California
Solvang, California Photo: Shutterstock

For anyone who’s driven from San Francisco to Los Angeles on Highway 101, or spent time in the Central Coast wine region, the windmills of tiny Solvang, California are a familiar site, just down the road from Andersen’s Pea Soup in nearby Santa Nella, and a continent and ocean away from their inspiration in the charming, rustic villages of rural Denmark.

But these days, Solvang hasn’t been so charming.

So much so that the mayor of Copenhagen, the Danish capital, was moved to admonish her American counterpart for betraying the “genuine warmth and acceptance” the once-powerful maritime nation is known for the world over.

She was talking about Pride.

“I was informed that the local opposition to put up Pride flags around town was justified with regard to Danish values and traditions,” Lord Mayor Sophie Hæstorp Andersen told the Los Angeles Times. “That’s why I think it was incredibly important to kindly make aware that these are not values we can answer for in Copenhagen.”

She reminded the local mayor in an open letter widely distributed and discussed in Solvang, pop. 6,000, that Denmark is “one of the most progressive countries in the world.”

The Lord Mayor had been “surprised” to learn that the tiny tourist destination in progressive California was embroiled in controversy over how, or even if, the town should celebrate Pride this year.

Last June, the newly formed Santa Ynez Valley Pride put on the town’s inaugural Pride parade with unanimous support from Solvang’s City Council.

Banners were hung. Crosswalks were painted in rainbow colors. And colorful floats paraded down Copenhagen Drive through the middle of town without incident.

Then in July, two high school seniors were arrested after they stole and burned a Pride flag hanging from an Episcopal church in nearby Los Olivos. They posted a hateful video documenting the vandalism.

“Oh, wait. This fire’s a little gay,” one of the young men says.

“Clearly their future, bro,” the other adds, laughing.

“Ash to ash,” the first rejoins.

The Santa Barbara County district attorney charged the pair, Avi Stone Williams, now 19, and Joshua Jerome Eligino, 20, with misdemeanor counts of petty theft and violations of civil rights.

That act of violence coincided with the current upsurge in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and legislation across the country, and Solvang Pride has been mired in controversy since, with even one-time allies abandoning the local LGBTQ+ community.

At a local high school, students were prompted to walk out earlier this year after administrators painted over rainbow crosswalks on campus that were part of an anti-hate campaign.

Pride organizers, including two gay dads who own a toy store in town, returned to the City Council in February, but this time their proposals for banners and rainbow crosswalks were rejected.

Kiel and Matthew Cavalli, owners of ONEderChild, were called groomers and pedophiles and received death threats.

One councilman who changed his vote was Robert Clarke, a self-described  “redneck Republican,” who said an entire month of rainbows in Solvang was just too much.

“It is not Solvang’s brand,” Clarke told the Times. “I would not want MAGA or NRA banners in Solvang either,” he claimed.

In emails retrieved after a public records request and posted before the City Council’s latest vote on Pride last week, Clarke again fell short of the Copenhagen mayor’s “warmth and acceptance” standards.

Clarke called his critics “Chardonnay Antifa” and wrote that “for every butt hurt person” who spoke out against him at a City Council meeting, he’d donate $10 to the anti-LGBTQ+ group Gays Against Groomers.

In the end, with an overflow crowd of citizen-activists in attendance, the Solvang City Council passed the Pride banners proposal last Monday, when one vote flipped from nay to yay: Mark Infanti, the tiny Danish-themed town’s mayor.

The council chambers erupted in cheers.

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