Oakland officials decry anti-LGBTQ bills at Pride flag raising

  • by Cynthia Laird, News Editor
  • Thursday June 1, 2023
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Oakland City Council members Rebecca Kaplan, front, and Noel Gallo hold the Progress Pride flag while Councilmembers Nikki Fortunato Bas and Carroll Fife look on during the June 1 flag raising. In back is Brandon Harami, Mayor Sheng Thao's LGBTQ liaison. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
Oakland City Council members Rebecca Kaplan, front, and Noel Gallo hold the Progress Pride flag while Councilmembers Nikki Fortunato Bas and Carroll Fife look on during the June 1 flag raising. In back is Brandon Harami, Mayor Sheng Thao's LGBTQ liaison. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland

Taking a stand against the onslaught of anti-LGBTQ legislation sweeping red states, Oakland and Alameda County officials on Thursday raised the Progress Pride flag as a symbol for justice.

Officials also spoke about a new youth club that the Oakland LGBTQ Community Center expects to open this month.

The Oakland ceremony happened shortly before Governor Gavin Newsom issued his annual LGBTQ+ Pride Month proclamation, noting that the LGBTQ community "has fought tirelessly for their very right to exist and to be treated with the equality and respect that everyone deserves."

Lesbian at-large Oakland City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan started off the local ceremony on the third floor roof of City Hall by leading a small crowd in a "We say gay" chant in response to "all the right-wing stuff," she said. It was a dig at Republican Florida Governor and presidential candidate Ron DeSantis' signing of the "Don't Say Gay" bill last year and, more recently, a new law that expands the prohibition on teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms to the eighth grade. (A separate Florida Board of Education directive expands that to 12th grade.)

Kaplan added, "We also say L, B, T, and Q — everyone is welcome here."

"Raising the flag in this time is to celebrate and say we won't bow down to the hatred," Kaplan said. "We raise the flag to be seen and we won't back down to hate. Oakland is a place that stands for justice. We will stand up and build solidarity and community."

Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao was traveling to a mayors' conference and wasn't at the ceremony. Brandon Harami, a gay man who's director of community resilience and Thao's de facto LGBTQ liaison, said the mayor, an ally, supports the LGBTQ community.

District 3 City Councilmember Carroll Fife, an ally, said Oakland "is a place for community and we don't back down from the nonsense" being spearheaded by conservative politicians and organizations. "We know that what happens to one happens to all. In 2023 you'd think we'd be past all the bigotry but we're not."

More than 400 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the country this year, with many being signed into law by Republican governors. The laws target gender-affirming care for trans youth, drag performances, and who can use which restroom in public buildings.

District 1 Oakland City Councilmember Dan Kalb, an ally who's seeking the 7th District state Senate seat (formerly District 9) that includes Richmond, Berkeley, Oakland, and San Leandro, talked about how some of these same states and school districts are banning books, many that feature LGBTQ content.

"We here are sending a different message," he said. "We want to promote books, including LGBTQ books."

City Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas represents District 2, home of the Oakland LGBTQ Community Center. She said that the city needs to lift up the work the center is doing, especially around queer youth.

In fact, the center expects to open an all-inclusive youth club June 16. Joe Hawkins, a gay man who's CEO and co-founder of the center, said the space is located a short distance from the center and is actually in Kalb's council district.

"We have queer people in all districts," Hawkins said. "With so much anti-LGBTQ legislation and attitudes, we're resilient and celebrate Pride."

Alameda County Supervisor Lena Tam was also in attendance. She defeated Kaplan last year for the District 3 seat on the Board of Supervisors and praised Kaplan's comments.

"We need to empower diversity," Tam said, adding the county board will also recognize Pride Month at an upcoming meeting.

As an aside, Tam said that county health officials asked her to note that people can get mpox vaccinations in advance of Pride celebrations. While the outbreak has subsided, health officials are concerned about a resurgence and recommend people get both doses of the vaccine. For more information, check the county health department's website.

Queer youth trivia night

Thao is expected to be back in town to attend the inaugural Oakland Queer Youth Trivia Night that will be held at City Hall Friday, June 9, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. The featured guest emcee will be 40-episode "Jeopardy!" champion and trans woman Any Schneider. The event will feature refreshments and prizes and is co-sponsored by the LGBTQ center. To RSVP, click here.

1 Oakland Pride this year

Oakland Pride and Pridefest Oakland leaders were on hand at the flag raising and spoke briefly to the Bay Area Reporter about there being a single event this year, scheduled for September 9-10. Last year, as the B.A.R. reported, the two groups could not agree to work together and so each had its own event over successive weekends.

There will be a party Saturday night, and parade and street festival on Sunday. Harami said there likely would be another Pride flag raising ahead of that event.

"We're very excited," said Sean Sullivan, a Pridefest organizer and co-owner of the city's LGBTQ nightclubs The Port Bar and Fluid510. "Oakland Pride and Pridefest came together in the spirit of unity."

George Smith, vice president of Oakland Pride, said the organization, which is under new leadership, is collaborating with Pridefest. He said discussions started earlier this year. Oakland Pride made the announcement on its Facebook page in early May.

"Your fave Pride organizations have joined forces to create a partnership of strength and respect to rep the LGBTQ community," the post stated.

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