City in Cali. Bans Pride Flag, Mayor Labels it Attack on LGBTQ

City of Downey Mayor Mario Trujillo and city council members during a recent regular meeting. (Photo Credit: City of Downey/Facebook)

After a tense back and forth between city council members during Tuesday night’s regular meeting, notably between the city’s Out LGBTQ+ Mayor and Councilmember Claudia Frometa, the council voted 3-2 to implement a "neutral" flag policy agenda item brought forward for a vote by Mayor Pro Tem Hector Sosa.

During the discussion, Mayor Mario Trujillo noted that the proposed agenda item had been lobbied for by a select few residents at the behest of a California chapter of Boston, Massachusetts-based anti-LGBTQ+ group MassResistance. The mayor in his remarks prior to the council’s vote framed the agenda item as an attack on the LGBTQ+ community.

The group is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for lies and propaganda and according to the SPLC, one of the most active chapters has been in California, run by perpetual right-wing activist Arthur Schaper, a columnist for and freelance writer based in Torrance, California.

Years long effort to ban the flag

In July 2021, The LA Wave media outlet reported that Sandi Padilla, the Downey chapter leader of MassResistance said her chapter planned protests on the Pride flag and possibly other LGBTQ+ related issues at future City Council meetings. In June 2021, the city council had voted to fly the LGBTQ+ Pride flag every June.

“We will definitely continue,” Padilla told LA Wave reporter Arnold Adler. “We won’t stop now. We elected the council members. We are their constituents. They should listen to our voices.”

Padilla said she has lived in Downey for eight years. Members of her chapter say City Council members went against the will of the majority of city residents when they approved flying the Gay Pride flag at the June 22. 2021 City Council meeting. The vote in favor of flying the flag was 4-1 vote, with then-Mayor Claudia Frometa dissenting.

The Downey City Clerk’s office told the LA Wave eight of 14 speakers opposed the Pride flag at the June 22, 2021 meeting and eight emails on the subject were all in opposition to the flag.

The Downey Patriot Newspaper reported on April 11, 2024 Mayor Pro Tempore Sosa asked city staff to “agendize a conversation” on the subject of a neutral flag policy, and what litigation the city could potentially expose itself to in the absence of adopting one. A neutral flag policy would ban the flying of nongovernmental flags on city buildings.

Currently the city of flies four flags – the American, California, city and MIA-POW flags – year-round.

During the public comment, Ari Ruiz, District Director for Assemblymember Blanca Pacheco, a former mayor of Downey delivered a message from Assemblymember Pacheco:

“Good evening Mayor Trujillo, Mayor Pro Tem Sosa, and Councilmembers Frometa, Pemberton, and Ortiz.

Due to the legislative calendar, I am unable to attend tonight’s Downey City Council meeting, where you will be voting to adopt a new Flag Policy. Therefore, I have asked my District Director to deliver brief remarks on my behalf and communicate my opposition to the proposed Neutral Flag Policy, which does not allow for freedom of expression. 

A pre-existing policy addresses this matter, affirming that if the City Council approves the display of the PRIDE flag or any other flag designated as a ‘commemorative flag,’ the flag  is recognized as an official form of government speech, which is permitted. For instance, if the City Council authorizes the display of the PRIDE flag, the display can be no longer than 30 days.

The U.S. Declaration of Independence states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” However, for some people, equality is not so evident, particularly when concerning who we love. 

During my tenure as a public servant, which has included serving the people of Downey as their Mayor and Councilmember, and now as their Assemblywoman, my goal always has been to ensure that all constituents are treated with respect and dignity. I believe that the current policy champions equality and inclusivity, mirroring the diverse community of Downey and extending a warm welcome to the LGBTQ+ community.

Thank you, Assemblywoman Blanca Pacheco.”

On Wednesday in a statement after Tuesday’s vote, Assemblymember Pacheco told the Blade:

“As someone who has always believed in the importance of inclusion and representation, it’s disheartening to see the Downey City Council adopt a neutral flag policy. When I served as mayor pro tem, we took a step forward in recognizing and celebrating the diversity of our community by flying the pride flag. While I respect differing opinions, I believe that embracing diversity strengthens our community and fosters a sense of belonging for all residents. I remain committed to promoting equality and acceptance in Downey and elsewhere.”

In a heated rebuke of the mayor’s remarks saying that the vote to ban the Pride flag was an attack on LGBTQ+ Downey residents, Councilmember Fromenta disagreed strongly saying that this was an issue of not showing favoritism or political endorsement of a group of people versus maintaining a neutral and appropriate acknowledgment of the nation, the state and city’s unity based on the whole of the city’s residents.

The Los Angeles County LGBTQ+ Elected Officials (LACLEO) association, in response to the City Council of Downey’s vote to ban the LGBTQ+ Pride flag, expressed its “profound disappointment,” in the decision.

LACLEO President and Los Angeles County Assessor Jeff Prang told the Blade in a statement: “This is a flag that symbolizes hope, freedom and unity. As an association representing over 50 LGBTQ+ elected officials, we are deeply disappointed but also incredibly surprised. Downey hosted the first pride celebration of any city in southeast Los Angeles County, flying the Pride flag proudly.”

The council vote was even more surprising given the fact that Mayor Mario Trujillo and Councilmember Horacio Ortiz are out-LGBTQ+ officials and who both voted against the measure LACLEO told the Blade.

“It just doesn’t make any sense for the leaders of a community that has been supportive of their LGBTQ+ constituents in the past to now adopt what appears to be a mean-spirited measure. At a time when we need to come together as a society more than ever, this can only serve to create division and discord where there was none,” Prang added.

LACLEO member, City of Downey Mayor Trujillo reiterating a portion of his remarks from Tuesday’s council meeting prior to the vote noted: “The flag has particular poignance for LGBTQ+ youth – it sends a message that this is a safe space and that you are welcome. Suicide is at epidemic levels and we should be doing all we can to be welcoming.”

“We must work to discover solutions that expand inclusivity and that acknowledge the diversity that enriches the places we all call home”, said LACLEO Vice President Ed Reece, who also serves as LA County LGBTQ+ Commissioner and Claremont City Councilmember.

Los Angeles Blade courtesy of the National LGBTQ Media Association.


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