Pride sweeps through Contra Costa, San Mateo counties

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday June 24, 2020
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After controversy over the Pride flag last year, the Dublin City Council voted to raise the Philly version of the flag this year for Pride Month. Photo: Courtesy Shawn Kumagai
After controversy over the Pride flag last year, the Dublin City Council voted to raise the Philly version of the flag this year for Pride Month. Photo: Courtesy Shawn Kumagai

At the start of 2020 it wasn't at all clear that LGBTQ advocates in Contra Costa and San Mateo counties could achieve their goal of having every single city in their jurisdictions celebrate June as Pride Month for the first time.

And then the novel coronavirus outbreak descended on the Bay Area in March, leading to a region-wide shutdown that had most people sheltering in place at home. One by one Pride celebrations were canceled, postponed, or moved online as health officials banned large gatherings in order to help stop the spread of the virus.

The decisions ended up bolstering the argument for why local cities and towns should mark June as Pride Month, not only with a proclamation but also by flying the rainbow flag. Unable to gather for their local county Pride events, or travel into San Francisco to attend the largest such gathering on the West Coast, they could head to their city hall to see the international symbol for the LGBTQ community flying over their hometown.

By mid-June the majority of cities in both counties had raised the Pride flag. Several in Contra Costa County, urged on by residents inspired by the protests over racial injustice and police brutality, opted to fly the version known as the Philly Pride flag that includes black and brown colored stripes to honor the African American and Latinx LGBTQ communities.

In a few cities, such as San Pablo and Foster City, the city councils agreed to fly the flag by divided votes. Other councils issued Pride Month proclamations for the very first time, with LGBTQ advocates hoping to see those cities fly the Pride flag next June.

"A year after I came out, I remember how seeing the flag fly at my city of work made such a huge impact on my sense of well-being, feeling included, feeling welcome, and feeling accepted," recalled Belmont resident Lelan Anders, 55, who came out as queer and nonbinary four years ago.

Anders still works in Sunnyvale, part of Santa Clara County, and joined the San Mateo LGBTQ Commission in January. A resident of Foster City for 18 years, they reached out to the members of the City Council there to explain why flying the Pride flag was important after several members initially expressed misgivings about doing so.

"Giving others that opportunity to see the Pride flag fly in their own city of residence and place they work is really important to me," said Anders. "I know how that can impact somebody's sense of well-being and connectedness to the community."

The main library in Burlingame sports the colors of the rainbow flag in its windows. Photo: Matthew S. Bajko  

Standing for equal rights
San Mateo County officially achieved its Pride Visibility campaign sweep June 17 when Atherton became the last of its 20 cities and towns to issue a Pride proclamation. Moraga will make it official for Contra Costa County June 24 when it becomes the last of the 19 cities there to issue a proclamation for Pride Month.

"We are hopeful of seeing other cities outside of the county do so as well. People are going and asking their city councils to raise the flag. It has been awesome," said Concord resident Robyn Kuslits, the immediate past president of the Lambda Democratic Club of Contra Costa County.

The LGBT political group has been working to achieve a countywide sweep in the East Bay jurisdiction for several years now. The last two cities to observe Pride Month, Clayton and Danville, not only signed on this year but agreed to fly the rainbow flag. Clayton raised several around its downtown at the start of June, while Danville hoisted the Philly version last week in response to community calls it do so organized by the local PFLAG chapter.

"It's been really exciting," said Kuslits, 33, who is transgender, bisexual, and genderqueer. "I think seeing every city recognize our community, I think, really shows how far we have come."

Seeing Clayton agree to fly the flag was particularly satisfying, said Kuslits, who grew up in Antioch, which is also flying the rainbow flag. The town on the northern flanks of Mt. Diablo has long had a conservative reputation, Kuslits noted.

"They really showed even conservatives are willing to stand up for equal rights for our community," said Kuslits.

The visible show of solidarity is just a first step, added Kuslits, toward seeing pro-LGBTQ policies be enacted by the various municipalities.

"Flag raisings aren't the end-all, be-all. They are very good for visibility and really brings our community into the spotlight with elected officials. Now we want to make sure we follow up and have policies in our cities that reflect equal rights for our community," said Kuslits, who is currently in law school.

When the LGBTQ advisory body on the Peninsula set out this year to get every San Mateo County city and town on board with its Pride initiative, it wasn't sure what the response would be, said Anders. Not only was the commission thrilled that all 20 issued Pride proclamations, it was astonished to see 13 agree to fly the Pride flag. (Burlingame isn't doing so at its City Hall, but across the street the city's main library decorated two of its windows in the colors of the rainbow flag.)

"That is just amazing to us," said Anders. "We are so proud and excited to see how San Mateo County has come together in demonstrating this inclusion."

Half Moon Bay LGBTQ residents have also been successful in a relatively short amount of time with their push to see their coastal community celebrate Pride. A year ago the group Coast Pride formed to host its own events in town and foster connections between LGBTQ people.

Last year, their library raised the rainbow flag in June and the local school district observed October as LGBTQ History Month. This month city leaders held a ceremony to raise the rainbow flag in front of City Hall.

"I think the timing is perfect. Right now we need something that kind of celebrates diversity and inclusion regardless of the group," said real estate agent David Oliphant, 57, who has lived in the town with his husband, choreographer Christopher Childers, 55, for a decade. "There are so many things going on right now that are the opposite of inclusion, I think that is a huge piece to celebrate."

Oliphant, a founding member of Coast Pride, said the organization has hopes of one day opening a dedicated space to hold its meetings and offer services. More immediately, it is translating its materials into Spanish to be more inclusive and reach non-English speaking members of the local LGBTQ community.

"The overall theme I keep hearing is thank you and it's about time," Oliphant said of the nonprofit's work.

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