Editorial: Now the Pride flag is under assault

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Wednesday March 8, 2023
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The Pride flag flew outside of Huntington Beach Civic Center in 2021. Photo: Courtesy City of Huntington Beach via Twitter
The Pride flag flew outside of Huntington Beach Civic Center in 2021. Photo: Courtesy City of Huntington Beach via Twitter

After years of reporting on Bay Area governments that have taken the right step and flown the rainbow flag in June for Pride Month, the inevitable backlash is underway in Southern California, and cities in several other states, as right-wing political leaders attempt to tell us that the flag doesn't belong outside of city halls, schools, or other municipal buildings — even after it has proudly flown in previous years. The latest reversal occurred last month in Huntington Beach, where the City Council voted 4-3 to remove the Pride flag from the list of approved flags to be flown outside City Hall. The council had initially approved the Pride flag flying in 2021. As the Los Angeles Times reported, only the rainbow flag was left off the list of approved standards. New Councilmember Pat Burns offered the proposal, which he said was not homophobic. That's disingenuous. Of course it is.

The Los Angeles LGBT Center was quick to condemn the council's action. "The Greater Los Angeles area is for everyone and yet Huntington Beach officials landed on a cliché and reductive approach to making headlines: marginalizing queer Californians (and potentially, millions of tourists) in one fell swoop," Joe Hollendoner, CEO of the center, stated in a news release. "For a city that prides itself on exercising its rights, Huntington Beach's officials are taking a cue from the political playbooks of extremist politicians across the country — using their hatred of queer and trans people as launching pads for their careers."

We certainly hope that elected leaders across the Bay Area don't suddenly get queasy over raising the flag or issuing proclamations as Pride Month approaches. We have documented the efforts of LGBTQ residents in numerous cities and towns in the Bay Area who have worked hard to get city councils, boards of supervisors, and other governing bodies to fly the flag. And it's paid off. As the B.A.R. reported in 2020, LGBTQ advocates in San Mateo County achieved their goal of having every single city in their jurisdiction celebrate June as Pride Month in some manner for the first time. All 20 issued Pride proclamations, while 13 flew the Pride flag.

Contra Costa County LGBTQ leaders achieved for the first time in 2020 an acknowledgment of Pride Month in some fashion in all 19 cities and towns in the East Bay jurisdiction. Fifteen flew a Pride flag that year, as we reported.

These actions aren't just symbolic; they send a powerful message that all are welcome and that the jurisdiction values diversity. That's even more important today, when trans people and their families are under attack in red states across the country and governments want to take away their ability to access gender-affirming care and other services. Drag artists, too, are feeling the brunt of discrimination as legislators craft laws that might not specifically mention drag, but are ambiguous enough to cause deep concern about whether a drag show can be held in a bar or other venue.

In response to these Pride flag bans or reversals, the Gilbert Baker Foundation has gotten involved. Baker, who died in 2017, was a former San Francisco resident and co-creator of the rainbow flag. He spent his life making it a worldwide symbol of LGBTQ Pride. In a news release, the foundation noted that Pride flag bans have taken place in Cold Spring, New York; Stoughton, Massachusetts; Davis, Utah; Newburg, Oregon; Morgantown, Washington; and the aforementioned Huntington Beach. "Make no mistake, right-wing groups want to roll back LGBTQ+ rights, and they're starting with banning rainbow flags," Charley Beal, president of the Gilbert Baker Foundation, stated in a release. "It's part of a huge conservative trend to squelch and censor minority rights across America."

The foundation also noted the insidious nature of the flag bans and pointed out the connection with book bans, which have intensified recently; school curriculum changes; language shaming; and restrictions on reproductive rights. In fact, the San Ramon Valley Board of Education in the East Bay recently held an information session about how the district purchases books for campus libraries that reportedly turned into a raucous affair with several speakers demanding that the graphic novel "Gender Queer" by Maia Kobabe and other books with LGBTQ content be removed. The school board did not vote on the matter, but it soon might. The American Library Association reported last fall that for the first eight months of 2022, there were 618 attempts to ban or restrict library resources and 1,651 unique titles were targeted.

In response to this latest flag flap, the Baker foundation has put together a tool kit that includes an open letter from the American Civil Liberties Union citing legal precedents on why banning the rainbow flag goes against existing laws. "Policies banning only the rainbow flag are viewpoint discrimination and violate the First Amendment," the ACLU noted.

It's critical that LGBTQ people are aware of these dangerous attempts by conservatives to police and censor us. All of these efforts, whether to ban the Pride flag, drag shows, books, or all three, are not happening in a vacuum. They are all part of a coordinated plan that conservatives are employing in an effort to control and demean us. Much of this can be tied to former President Donald Trump and his ardent supporters. Trump recently released a video message in which he said he would engage in a sweeping rollback of trans rights if elected president in 2024. The other actual or potential GOP candidates are following his lead, which is frightening for LGBTQ people.

Local government officials, especially in California, should be welcoming displays of the Pride flag and the inclusivity it represents. They should not be revising policies that remove the Pride flag — and only the Pride flag — from flying outside municipal buildings.

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