Political Notebook: Pride flag at CA Capitol 1st flew in October 1990

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday June 19, 2019
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The October 18, 1990 issue of the Bay Area Reporter featured a photo of the Pride flag that flew briefly at the state Capitol on October 11 for National Coming Out Day. Photo: Bay Area Reporter archives
The October 18, 1990 issue of the Bay Area Reporter featured a photo of the Pride flag that flew briefly at the state Capitol on October 11 for National Coming Out Day. Photo: Bay Area Reporter archives

When a rainbow flag was raised Monday over the California Capitol, both Governor Gavin Newsom and Equality California, the statewide LGBT advocacy organization, claimed it marked the "first time ever" it had flown over the building.

Yet a Pride flag was first raised above the dome of the Sacramento structure on Coming Out Day October 11, 1990. It was said to mark the first time the symbol of the LGBT community had flown at a state capitol building in the U.S.

As a front page story in the Bay Area Reporter that day explained, it was the result of a joint resolution passed the day prior by the Assembly and Senate. A past president of the Sacramento gay and lesbian River City Democratic Club, Ken Topper, who was a legislative aide to then-Senate Pro Tem Dave Roberti, had approached the late Senator Milton Marks (D-San Francisco) to introduce the resolution.

"It sends a message to all constituencies that we're as much a part of this society as any other minority or cultural group," Topper had told the B.A.R., adding that "the raising of that flag raises our visibility and it will enable people to be freer in acknowledging who they are."

Marks had sought to have the Pride flag fly from sunrise on October 11 until the flags were taken down that night. Yet the flag ended up being flown for only a few hours that day, as the B.A.R. reported in its October 18, 1990 issue.

Then-governor George Deukmejian ordered the flag to be taken down shortly after it was raised, according to the article. The story also reported that state police had received threats from veterans who said they planned to shoot or burn the flag.

Marks criticized the governor's decision, stating in a news release that it was "inappropriate" and that the Pride flag "represents the diversity of our state and the struggle to gain rights and acceptance for all people."

Now living in Vermont, former Marks staffer Michael Bosia contacted the B.A.R. after hearing about Newsom's raising the flag this week in order to correct the historical record. In an email Tuesday, he wrote about working with Topper and another Marks staffer, Carol Stuart, on getting the flag flown nearly three decades ago.

Asked about seeing not only Newsom, but Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers and gay Colorado Governor Jared Polis fly the Pride flag at their state Capitols for the first time this year in honor of Pride month, Bosia replied he was surprised it hadn't happen sooner.

"To be honest, I am surprised that it has taken this long for the second raising of the flag. But now it is much easier in some ways," wrote Bosia, an associate professor of political science at Saint Michael's College. "Imagine how dark 1990 was, and how much anger, after nearly a decade of AIDS, the Bush administration, the 1990 AIDS Conference in San Francisco, the failure of Prop S, state and local budget cuts. We really needed something that gave us hope, and that's why we did it."

Stuart replied in an email when asked about the flag raising in 1990, "for us standing on the lawn, in front of the Capitol that day, it was very meaningful."

She credited Bosia and Topper, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday, for working behind the scenes to make it happen.

EQCA spokesman Samuel Garrett-Pate told the B.A.R. the inaccuracy in the news release sent out Monday highlights why it is important that the LGBT community's history be archived and taught in classrooms, as California and New Jersey now require.

"We're grateful to the Bay Area Reporter for flagging this important moment in history, and applaud the young gay Capitol staff who organized to have a rainbow flag flown over the Capitol in October 1990 — in celebration of National Coming Out Day," wrote Garrett-Pate in an emailed reply. "Their courageous act should not be forgotten, and we remain dedicated to ensuring our community's history is recorded, recognized and celebrated."

The release did mention how the rainbow flag had previously been hung over balconies both inside and outside of the building. And it also noted how the Capitol dome was illuminated in rainbow colors in June 2015 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality.

Newsom spokesman Nathan Click sent the B.A.R. a statement Tuesday afternoon explaining that the governor had just learned that the Pride flag had flown for three hours in 1990.

"This piece of our state's history deserves to be called out and recognized," stated Newsom. "News reports from the time tell of a group of activists and legislators who quietly orchestrated the flag to be flown to commemorate National Coming Out Day. It was an act of visibility and defiance. After a short time on display, Governor Deukmejian was alerted to the flag's existence and ordered it come down, saying it was 'mistakenly' raised."

He added that, "Almost 30 years later, our state is proud to have moved beyond the days when homophobia and bigotry were enshrined in our state body politic. And we are proud of the individuals whose collective actions helped moved our state and society toward acceptance and understanding. The rioters at the Black Cat, the friendly fearlessness of Harvey Milk, the coalition that banded together to fight the hateful Briggs Initiative — California has been a center of LGBTQ resistance. These legislators and activists who first hoisted the LGBTQ pride flag above the Capitol dome are part of that story."

The Golden State, stated Newsom, "proudly raises the LGBTQ pride flag this month in honor of that history. Twenty-nine years after the LGBT pride flag first flew above the Capitol dome, there's no mistaking why it's there. California is welcoming and inclusive to all — regardless of how you identify and who you love."

The Pride flag that flew 29 years ago was reportedly to be sent to the National Coming Out Day headquarters in Santa Fe, New Mexico accompanied by a note acknowledging Marks, who died in 1998, and the others involved in having it be flown.

Oakland City Council President Rebecca Kaplan. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland  

Oakland council prez Kaplan, wife divorced last fall
After marrying five years ago in a private summer wedding ceremony, Oakland at-large City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan and Pamela Rosin divorced last fall. The couple had been together since 2012 after first meeting at Oakland's East Bay Church.

Their nuptials made headlines in the Bay Area when Kaplan announced Rosin had accepted her marriage proposal via a Facebook post in May 2014. Their divorce appears to have gone unreported, as the B.A.R. first learned about it over the weekend in a brief emailed note from Rosin, an Oakland-based associate marriage and family therapist who works with couples and individuals.

She was responding to a profile of her ex that ran in the June 13 issue of the B.A.R. The story, focused on Kaplan's historic election in January as the first LGBT person to be president of the Oakland City Council, noted that Kaplan is "a proud butch dyke, married to her wife, and doesn't conform to gender norms."

In her email, Rosin wrote that there was incorrect information in the story because "Rebecca Kaplan is not married." Their divorce will be finalized June 20, she told the B.A.R.

When the B.A.R. interviewed Kaplan in mid-May for the article, she was asked if there was a special ceremonial title used for her wife now that she was council president. In response, Kaplan made no mention of the fact she was divorced or separated from Rosin, and instead, replied she would "have to ponder that."

In an emailed reply Monday to the B.A.R. when asked if she had divorced from Rosin, Kaplan apologized for not clarifying her relationship status during the interview.

She wrote, "as our conversation was focused on my professional life, I wanted to mention and apologize that I did not mention information about my personal life."

Kaplan confirmed that she and her former wife "broke up last fall. And while I do not intend to speak about her, and I only wish her well for her future, I did want to share that information with you."

First elected to her council seat in November 2008, Kaplan was last re-elected in 2016 to a four-year term. She is one of only a handful of out women currently serving on a city council in the Bay Area.

She twice ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Oakland, in 2010 and 2014, and is already being talked about as a potential mayoral candidate in 2022 when the city's current mayor, Libby Schaaf, will be term limited from seeking a third term.

There is speculation that Kaplan, a Stanford Law School graduate, could enter the race next year for Oakland city attorney rather than seek re-election to her council seat. The incumbent, Barbara Parker, is also up for re-election in November 2020.

State Senate candidate John Laird. Photo: Courtesy Laird for Senate campaign  

BAYMEC endorses Laird for Senate
The South Bay's main LGBT political group has endorsed gay former Assemblyman John Laird in the race for the state's open 17th Senate District seat along the Central Coast.

BAYMEC, the Bay Area Municipal Elections Committee, announced its support for Laird in a June 14 email. He is running to succeed Senator Bill Monning (D-Carmel), who is termed out of office next year.

The Senate seat includes Santa Cruz and San Luis Obispo counties, the coastal areas of Monterey County, and southern Santa Clara County. Laird was one of the first two out gay men elected to the state Assembly in 2002.

He ran unsuccessfully for state Senate in 2010 and went on to serve in the administration of former Governor Jerry Brown as California's secretary for natural resources from January 2011 until the beginning of this year.

To date the only other person to pull papers for the Senate race next year is Republican Neil Kitchens. The Prunedale horse ranch owner ran unsuccessfully last year for state Assembly.

CA lawmakers fund LGBT projects
State lawmakers included more than $3.7 million in funding for various LGBT projects in the budget they sent to Governor Gavin Newsom last week. Once he signs it, the funding will become final.

Three of the Legislative LGBTQ Caucus' funding asks survived the budget negotiations between the state Senate and Assembly. Most significantly, they allocated the $2 million sought by organizers of the International AIDS Conference being co-hosted by San Francisco and Oakland next summer.

Also included in the budget is $500,000 for the national LGBT arts center being built by the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus and $175,000 for the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco, according to gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), who chairs the LGBTQ affinity group for legislators.

(The caucus had also sought several million dollars to pay for LGBT cultural competency training for public school teachers. Since legislation requiring the training is still pending, it was not added to this year's budget.)

Wiener also secured $1 million for the proposed revamp of Harvey Milk Plaza above the Castro Muni Station. The controversial project is estimated to cost at least $11 million, which a community group has pledged to raise as it seeks city approval.

And Wiener secured $100,000 for the Eagle Plaza, a leather-themed public parklet in San Francisco's South of Market neighborhood that broke ground Tuesday. The funding would go toward the estimated $1.85 million price tag for the project.

Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reported on all five Napa County cities agreeing to fly the Pride flag for the first time this June.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBT political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @ http://twitter.com/politicalnotes .

Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail m.bajko@ebar.com.