DELANO — Come the third week of May, a rainbow flag will not be flown before Delano’s City Hall anymore, per a 3-1 vote Monday night.
The Delano City Council rescinded the 2021 resolution to display the LGBTQ pride flag, which was raised the past few springs to promote a welcoming and safe space for LGBTQ Californians. This vote makes Delano the second California city to take down the flag, after Huntington Beach, which unanimously voted it down last month.
"They are constantly judged in a country that celebrates freedom," said Suzanne Villaruz, a Delano resident. "You cannot tell me that changing this ordinance is going to decry freedom. This ordinance celebrates freedom, it celebrates your choice of god and celebrates your choice of life and celebrates your choice of who you love."
Discussion continued for roughly 40 minutes, and included community members in the audience and virtual call-ins.
Proponents of the flag believe it an accomplishment, one that reflects the city’s inclusivity; others believe it expresses one’s preference and is improper for a public space.
“As a believer I'm not asking them to fly a Christian flag,” said Angelo Frazier, a pastor and volunteer chaplain with the Bakersfield Police Department. “I believe in pro-life; I'm not asking them to fly that flag, or the pro-heterosexual flag. If we had a flag for every issue, you wouldn't fit them on the pole.”
Frazier and other opponents likened the issue of LGBTQ rights to preferences, such as views on Christianity, confederacy and contraceptives. Another pastor present said that he personally had never met any LGBTQ member who has been mistreated.
"I feel that flying flags that represent certain subgroups of American citizens only serves to exclude and separate others," said Ann McBride, a Delano resident.
The Delano LGBTQ+ Alliance and LOUD For Tomorrow, two groups that were incredibly vocal in raising the flag two years ago, were in attendance Monday. Many criticized opponents of the flag and said their comments were intolerant and embodied homophobia.
"I hope that moving forward, we are being honest," said Jose Orellana, who identifies as queer. "This current discussion is fueled by bigotry and homophobia."
With a 3-2 vote in June 2021, Delano has flown the pride flag the past couple of years. It was one of two flags on rotation that count as non-governmental — the LGBTQ flag and another for International Firefighter's Day.
Flags have been typically approved through an application process. It is unclear whether other applications have been made.
But since then, the mayoral guard has changed. The previous mayor, Bryan Osorio — in tandem with community activists — was the one who championed the pride flag’s raising.
“When we first got it passed, it was the intent of flying the flag to send out a message of inclusivity and diversity,” said Osorio, now a city planning commissioner. “It’s often a message that can be left to interpretation so that might make some people not feel welcome.”
After his exit from office in December, his successor, Joe Alindajao, as well as two other council members voted against the measure. Alindajao made the argument that by affirming one group — whether by a flag or similar motif — you marginalize another, and said that any non-governmental flag, including the firefighter flag, shouldn't be allowed.
"Government doesn't have the power to affirm a group or make it feel inclusive," Alindajao said. "People do that."
Councilman Mario Nunes, who voted against the flag in 2021, opined a statement similar to opponents of the flag, saying that it divides more than brings together.
"I truly believe the only flag that should be flown is the American flag, the state flag and the (prisoner of war) flag," Nunes said.
As a pastor, Frazier said he regularly hears complaints about the flag, and other symbols that are “ideologies forced upon them,” which he believes are unfair and discriminatory.
“I hear it out not just in public, but within the walls of local churches,” Frazier said. "There's this prevailing idea that ‘we haven't voted for that’ or ‘as a people we haven't agreed to that’ and that happens on both (political) sides.”
Another council member said this decision was not proactive as it did not provide any compromise.
"When we approved this flag I had family once from out of town just to take a picture," said Councilwoman Veronica Vasquez. "It's a very big deal and it saves people's lives."
Osorio, who attended the meeting, said earlier Monday that regardless of which way the vote went, he asked people to be allies to those who face real mistreatment on a near daily basis.
“I just try to be an ally,” Osorio said. “And I encourage other people to be allies as well.”
In other news, Delano officials on Monday tabled a review of what could be local legislation on rent control, which would build on a 2019 state bill to ensure affordable housing for California renters. Council members took the item off Monday's agenda after saying they needed more time to review their options. They will return to it next month.