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Flying Pride flag a step too far for Foster City council

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Flying Pride flag a step too far for Foster City council

While it issued a proclamation recognizing June as Pride Month for the second year in a row, the city council in Foster City, California Monday rejected a request that it also fly the rainbow flag in front of its City Hall.

During the council's meeting livestreamed via the Bay Area city's website due to the novel coronavirus outbreak suspending in-person gatherings, the council members acknowledged they had received two official requests that they fly the international symbol for the LGBT community on the flagpole outside of the municipal building.

One of the requests came from the Reverend Jim Mitulski, a gay man who is pastor of the Island United UCC Church in Foster City. The Christian congregation last year had asked the city council to issue a Pride proclamation for the first time, which it did without hesitation.

Contacted last month by the Bay Area Reporter, Mitulski had said he intended to reach out to the council members about again issuing a Pride proclamation as well as request they fly the rainbow flag this year. In his email to the council, read during tonight's meeting, he also offered to have his church secure a rainbow flag for the city, as he had told the B.A.R. he would do.

Yet City Councilwoman Catherine Mahanpour, currently serving as mayor, rejected flying the Pride flag. She said the city's municipal building "really wouldn't lend itself to" doing so.

"It is not our policy to put flags on a government building like that," she said. "So I would prefer to keep it that way because it really wouldn't lend itself to. As a government building we generally don't raise a different flag than the U.S. flag."

City Councilman Sam Hindi said he had conferred with the city attorney who shared his concerns that agreeing to fly the rainbow flag "opens the door" to the city having to raise flags associated with racist groups or other entities the city wouldn't want to be associated with.

"One of the unintended consequences, if you will, if we do that is we have to let somebody, for example a racist organization, that put in a request to raise the flag and put us in a not comfortable position," said Hindi. "For those reasons I am not recommending raising the flag."

Hindi, who agreed to issue the Pride proclamation last year when he was serving as mayor, stressed that the denial of the flag flying request did not mean that the city didn't celebrate its LGBT residents.

"I want to assure the LGBTQ community we support you 100 percent and you are part of our community and we appreciate all your contributions," he said.

Asked for comment, Mitulski told the B.A.R. he was disappointed by the council's decision and that he would request that it reconsider its vote at the next meeting. He also plans to reach out to all five council members individually to ask them to change their vote.

"I'm pleased that the Foster City Council has agreed to proclaim June as Pride. That's a step forward for affirming diversity from last year when we only asked for a day, for fear that they would say no if we asked for the whole month," he wrote in a reply. "I'm glad that they didn't apply the same reasoning to the proclamation that they have applied to the rainbow diversity flag."

Mitulski expressed disbelief at "the notion (not raised by legal experts from across Northern California but only by the Foster City Attorney) that a rainbow flag is equivalent to a racist flag, and that to raise the one in celebration of LGBT people living in Foster City would then require them to fly a racist flag - defies logic and reason."

He questioned if the city has had to entertain such a request to raise a racist group's flag.

"Has this happened? Do they get a lot of requests like this?" asked Mitulski. "They could say no to a racist organization because Foster City does not support racism."

The San Mateo County LGBTQ Commission is asking all 20 cities and towns in the jurisdiction to issue a Pride proclamation and fly the rainbow flag this year, or at least declare June as Pride Month. It would mark the first time every incorporated city and town had done so in the Peninsula jurisdiction just south of San Francisco, as the B.A.R. first reported online May 11.

Tanya Beat, director of the commission, did not immediately respond to a request for comment following the Foster City council's vote.

In 2019 at least eight of the county's cities and towns officially marked Pride in June by either issuing a Pride proclamation or raising the rainbow flag — or doing both — that month, according to local LGBT leaders and a search of city agendas and social media accounts. It is anticipated that by mid-June all 20 cities will have celebrated Pride Month in some manner.

Earlier Monday, Half Moon Bay and the city of San Mateo kicked off the month-long LGBT celebration by raising the rainbow flag for the first time in front of their city halls. Redwood City again raised the Pride flag this morning, and last week the town of Woodside issued its first Pride proclamation.

East Palo Alto is expected to issue its first such proclamation Tuesday night. And the city of San Carlos will host its second rainbow flag raising ceremony at 2 p.m. Friday, June 5, via Facebook Live at facebook.com/scparksandrec.

San Mateo County's Pride Visibility campaign has taken on even greater urgency due to the health pandemic, which has led to the cancellation or postponement of Pride events and parades that normally would be held in June. The county's annual Pride event that was to be held in a local park June 13 has been turned into a week's worth of virtual events culminating in an online Pride celebration that Saturday.

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