With cities raising diverse Pride flags, push to see SF Castro follow suit

  • by Matthew S. Bajko and John Ferrannini
  • Thursday June 18, 2020
Share this Post:
Sacramento City Councilman Steve Hansen, center, joined with LGBTQ members of his city's youth commission June 11 to raise the Progress Pride flag at City Hall. Photo: Courtesy Facebook
Sacramento City Councilman Steve Hansen, center, joined with LGBTQ members of his city's youth commission June 11 to raise the Progress Pride flag at City Hall. Photo: Courtesy Facebook

With several cities in California flying more diverse versions of the rainbow flag, LGBTQ advocates in San Francisco are seeking to see the Castro business district follow suit and raise one of the flags on the giant flagpole that stands over the LGBT neighborhood.

On Thursday, the city of San Ramon hoisted the Philadelphia version of the Pride flag at its City Hall following its City Council voting 5-0 at a special meeting June 17 to raise that variation of the rainbow flag as it fine tunes having a flag policy in place. According to Philadelphia magazine, the marketing firm Tierney created that version of the flag in June 2017 for the city of Philadelphia. It includes black and brown stripes at the top of the flag in addition to the standard six colors of the rainbow.

San Ramon Vice Mayor Sabina Zafar told the Bay Area Reporter she has been pushing her city to fly a Pride flag since seeing the neighboring town of Dublin do so for the first time last year. Dublin is flying the Philly version of the Pride flag, which went up June 2.

San Ramon is flying the Philly Pride flag at the urging of hundreds of residents in recent weeks who drew inspiration from the Black Lives Matter movement and nationwide protests against police brutality.

"Part of it is as a collective Tri-Valley, let's be inclusive," said Zafar, referring to the area of the East Bay that also includes Livermore, which is also flying the rainbow flag. "Because Black Lives Matter is such a hot topic right now as well, it just made sense to include everybody in this."

After initially ignoring requests earlier in June that it also fly the Philly flag when it issued its Pride Month proclamation, the neighboring town of Danville also raised the flag this week. Its city council voted Tuesday to fly it in the Danville Town Green, where it was hoisted Wednesday morning though it wasn't until Thursday afternoon that local LGBT advocates learned it had been raised.

"These local governments took a stand, met a challenging topic straight on, and chose to do what was right," noted the PFLAG Danville/San Ramon Valley chapter on its Facebook page with photos of the flags in both cities.

The first city to hoist the Philly Pride flag in the Tri-Valley area of the East Bay was Dublin, which did so June 2. It had initially raised the other version of the rainbow flag on June 1 and then swapped the flags when the newer one arrived.

In mid-May the city council had agreed to fly the Philly Pride flag at the suggestion of Vice Mayor�Arun Goel in "consideration of additional inclusivity." It was in stark contrast from last year, when he was one of three council members to vote at first against flying the rainbow flag to then change their minds after causing a heated backlash.

In a Facebook post close to midnight June 2, gay Dublin City Councilman Shawn Kumagai pointed out "the intersectional nature of race, gender identity, and sexual orientation in the fight for equal protection under the law. That is why I'm proud that we are raising the Philly Pride Flag this year. Thank you Vice Mayor�Arun Goel�for suggesting that we do that, which proved to be particularly poignant this year."

In Sacramento, gay City Councilman Steve Hansen gathered with LGBTQ members of the city's youth commission June 11 to raise the Pride flag known as the "Progress" variation.

Daniel Quasar designed it in 2018 by combining versions of the Philly flag and the transgender pride flag. It also uses the original six-colored rainbow stripes while incorporating the black and brown stripes of the Philly version and the blue, pink and white stripes of the trans flag to form a chevron that points right to symbolize marching toward a better future.

Last year, the city had flown a version of the rainbow flag that included stripes for the colors of the trans flag in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York City that are credited with kicking off the modern LGBT rights movement. The city had tried to obtain the Progress version last year but couldn't as it was sold out.

"The moment we are in right now I think it is just important our LGBTQ community stands in solidarity. But also you look at trans people of color, you look at LGB people of color, and they have suffered from systemic racism on top of homophobia and transphobia," said Hansen, who credited the city's LGBT center and local leaders in helping secure this year's flag being flown. "We don't have a choice but to tell their story."

SF effort

LGBT advocates in San Francisco would like to see the Progress Pride flag be hoisted on the giant flagpole above the Castro Muni Station. The flagpole is part of Harvey Milk Plaza at the intersection of Castro and Market streets and is controlled by the Castro Merchants, the LGBT district's business association.

Dedicated November 7, 1997 during Mayor Willie Brown's administration, the flagpole features a gigantic version of the six-striped rainbow flag design that the late gay artist and advocate Gilbert Baker unveiled during the city's Pride celebration in 1979. (The first Pride flags that Baker created, with the assistance of friends Lynn Segerblom and the late James McNamara, featured additional colors and on one version white stars in a blue field of fabric.)

As the B.A.R. previously reported, over the years, control of the Castro flagpole has prompted controversy over whether it should be lowered to half-mast in honor of prominent LGBT people and advocates who have died. Requests to swap out the rainbow flag for the transgender flag or one honoring the bear community have also generated debate.

In light of the controversies, the Castro business association adopted a policy six years ago to only fly the rainbow flag always at full-mast.

This year Gage Lennox, a San Francisco resident who hosts fetish events, launched a petition on the website Change.org to request the merchants group fly the Progress version of the Pride flag. It has garnered 178 signatures, as of press time, out of a goal of 200.

"NOW is the year to extend our language and our symbolism to include the ENTIRE LGBTQ family! The Progress Pride flag is a symbol of inclusion to our POC and Trans family — and an acknowledgment that our celebrations and achievements have BENEFITED from their strength and presence," the petition states. "The Castro has always been a symbol of historic progress for the LGBTQ community. Let's continue our values and keep writing history — and evolve our iconic Gay Pride flag into the Progress Pride flag."

The Castro Merchants issued a statement June 22 noting it has been the steward of the flagpole since 1997.

"While we do cover the cost of maintaining the flag and flagpole, we are not allowed to make changes to the installation itself," the statement reads. "We recognize and celebrate the inclusivity already present in the flag designed by Gilbert Baker, which was created by locals and first flew over our city, before going on to become the internationally recognized symbol of the LGBTQ+ community.

"We also recognize the need, from time to time, for increased visibility for specific groups and ideas, and we specifically endorse the power and message delivered through the new Progress flag. As such, we are exploring opportunities to fly that flag, and other flags, in the Castro neighborhood."

Lennox did not respond to the B.A.R.'s request for comment as of press time.

According to the petition, Lennox had the opportunity to speak with Quasar.

Meanwhile, another petition to "Make the Castro Pride flag more inclusive" has gained even more signatures.

This petition, also addressed to the Castro Merchants, asks that the flag be replaced with the Philadelphia version.

"In 1978, artist Gilbert Baker designed the original rainbow flag, a symbol of LGBTQ+ unity. So much has happened since then, and so much happening in the world now bringing us to this important milestone in our collective history. As our nation continues to come to terms with its history of racism and oppressive violence toward black people, we can do more to recognize black people and people of color in the LGBTQ+ community," the petition states.

"In 2017, the Philadelphia Office of LGBT Affairs' launched its 'More Color More Pride' campaign, and expanded Baker's design to include a black and brown stripe to represent inclusion of people of color in the LGBTQ community. This was done to fuel a very important conversation and make big strides toward a truly inclusive community. It's San Francisco's turn now."

The petition, which was launched by Joel Sierra, has garnered 228 signatures as of press time. It has the support of Christopher Vasquez, a gay man who is the communications director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

"I personally like the Progress Pride flag, but I have reservations about it being linked to an individual rather than a nonprofit, as well as my belief that its design is a [little bit] too kitschy for flying so prominently," Vasquez stated. "I can be persuaded, but I think taking the step to move toward the Philly version is the right step right now."

Sierra, a gay Latinx man, told the B.A.R. via phone on June 18 that he started the petition with a couple of friends.

"We feel now is the time to make the Castro a more visual place for inclusivity," Sierra said. "Having been to the recent events in the Castro that deal with intersectionality, it's clear that black people and people of color don't always feel welcome in the Castro, and this would be a good first step."

Sierra said that the first time he saw the rainbow flag at Castro and Market streets he "felt like he had made it home," and added that his petition and the one promoting the Progress flag are trying to accomplish the same thing.

"When I think about the two petitions, I see a collective of 500 people who want to see change," Sierra said. "One of these two flags will be going up very soon."

San Ramon raised a Philly version of the Pride flag Thursday, June 18. Photo: Courtesy City of San Ramon  

San Ramon meeting
Based on the comments of a majority of the San Ramon City Council members at their June 9 meeting, it was expected the city southeast of Mt. Diablo would fly the rainbow flag later this month after the council voted to do so at its June 23 meeting. The city had already issued a Pride proclamation this month, added pro-LGBTQ messages to a city-controlled bulletin board, and lighted its City Hall in the colors of the rainbow.

It was expected to have adopted a flag policy earlier this month, but the item was initially pushed back to the council's meeting next Tuesday. More than a dozen people had beseeched the council during public comment at its June 9 meeting to raise the rainbow flag in front of City Hall, with many saying it should be the Philly version.

In response to the suggestions that the town was not supporting LGBTQ people by not flying the flag, City Councilman Dave Hudson suggested a special meeting be held so the matter could be addressed sooner.

"This is not what people were looking for tonight. I will leave it at that," said Hudson, after being advised by the city's mayor and city attorney that they could not discuss the flag matter since it had not been agendized for the meeting.

City Councilman Phil O'Loane also expressed his frustration that the flag request had been delayed.

"This is not an item that should have been held off until the end of June," said O'Loane. "That is like talking about Christmas in January."

Their comments led to Wednesday night's special meeting. The only person from the public to speak was Jacquie Guzzo, the mother of a transgender son who is president of the PFLAG Danville/San Ramon Valley chapter. She presented a letter signed by 200 community members in support of seeing the Philly flag raised rather than have multiple people speak so that the council could get to voting on the item.

"We want you to fly the Philly flag as a beacon for all of us that we will all be all right," Guzzo told the council members.

Zafar, who is running to be elected the city's mayor in November, told the B.A.R. that she is overjoyed that the council moved faster to get the flag up.

"I am just ecstatic we did it with a 5-0 vote. It is unbelievable," she said. "I have been talking about this for a year and a half and it felt like no one was hearing it. It took the community organizing for sure to help make this happen."

Speaking by phone after seeing the Pride flag be raised, Guzzo told the B.A.R. Thursday that she addressed those who had gathered for the flag-raising on behalf of those who are still in the closet and can't speak for themselves.

"The raising of the flag today I hope everyone understands what it really means is when those who are still silent are ready, San Ramon is ready too," said Guzzo, who noted community members had first requested the city fly the flag back in March. "It was a long time coming. Even though there are just 12 days left of Pride Month, well we have to celebrate every win."

Updated, 6/18/20: This article has been updated with information about a second Castro petition.

Updated, 6/19/20: with the news that Danville also raised the Philly Pride flag.

Updated, 6/22/20: it include Dublin swapping out the rainbow flag it first raised June 1 for the Philly version.

Updated, 6/23/20:: This article has been updated to include a statement from the Castro Merchants group.

Editor's note: If you liked this article, help out our freelancers and staff, and keep the B.A.R. going in these tough times. For info, visit our Indiegogo campaign. To donate, simply claim a perk!