Residents clashed during an Orange County Fair and Event Center board meeting Feb. 25 over a gay pride flag hanging at the fairgrounds.
The flag at the center of the controversy has been on display since May 23, 2019, when the board approved a resolution to hang it as a symbol of inclusiveness.
As some condemned the symbolic gesture, others staunchly defended the flag.
Chairwoman Natalie Rubalcava-Garcia said called the Pride flag “the unifying symbol of inclusion.”
“[The Pride flag’s presence] ensured all people, regardless of race, creed sexual orientation or gender felt represented and welcomed at the fair,” Rubalcava-Garcia said.
“During public comment at one of our board meetings, several people spoke against the flag. Their words were negative, cutting, and hurtful … In my eyes, that’s not okay. All of the comments related to the removal of the flag have helped to reaffirm for me at least, that the flag should continue flying year-round.”
Others, such as commenter Jerri Lynn, took issue with the flag, saying it represents just a small segment of Orange County’s diversity.
“And yet it’s been given a unique place of prominence and stature at the fairgrounds,” Lynn said. “Why weren’t other flags that represent Orange County interest or other oppressed people groups considered as well?”
“This is not about the merits of any one particular flag. It’s rather about the preference that’s been given to one flag over others … the board must clarify how paying tribute to only one specific group on disregarding all the others is fair or equitable.”
Director Ashleigh Aitken said the pride flag was initially flown in the wake of the hate-motivated killing of Blaze Bernstein, a 19-year-old who was believed to have been targeted for being Jewish and homosexual.
Bethany Webb, whose trans-daughter was in the same year of school as Blaze Bernstein at Orange County School of the Arts, said “when you fly that flag, you give confidence and integrity to people that have been maligned throughout their life.”
Many members of the public said taking the flag down would be worse than never having put it up.
“To me, there’s nothing more political than pulling down the flag. In fact, pulling down a flag would be far more political than keeping it up,” Yvonne Su, of Tustin, said. “The pride flag is apolitical; it’s a symbol of love and acceptance.”
Director Barbara Bagneris—the only member to vote against reaffirming the pride flag—took issue with the board’s refusal to fly a flag commemorating Black History Month every February.
“When you elevate one you marginalize the others,” Bagneris said during the meeting.
“For the board to outright turn down the opportunity to fly another flag when you had already approved flying the pride flag was very hurtful to my community and to me…This flag has become a very divisive issue when it did not need to be.”
While Director Douglas La Bell thought it was necessary to keep the pride flag flying, he said: “We do have a [flag] that’s representative of all of us in the United States. It’s called the United States flag.”