Downey reverses policy on flying Pride flag. Critics protest the move

Three years after first flying the LGBTQ+ Pride flag from City Hall, the Downey City Council narrowly voted Tuesday during a six-hour meeting in favor of enacting a “neutral flag” policy that strikes down such displays.

The 3-2 affirmative vote amended the city’s policy to allow only the flying of the United States flag, the state flag, the city flag and the prisoner of war flag.

Mayor Pro Tem Hector Sosa motioned and voted for the policy change, as did City Councilmembers Dorothy Pemberton and Claudia Frometa. Downey Mayor Mario Trujillo and Councilmember Horacio Ortiz voted against.

Sosa said his vote to put forward the policy was motivated by requests he said he’s received from residents since he was elected into office two years ago to hoist a variety of flags, including Christian, Blue Lives Matter, thin blue line and Israeli flags.

“I don’t think it’s our role as elected officials to pick and choose which groups get to fly their flags,” Sosa said. “Our role is to simply govern and govern for the residents of Downey.”

Trujillo, who was was elected in April to the board of directors for the new Los Angeles County LGBTQ+ Elected Officials Assn., said he was disappointed in the vote. He also issued a warning to council members who have LGBTQ+ family members but voted in favor of the policy. “You can rest assured that after tonight, they will not consider you an ally,” he said.

Trujillo called the move “a step backward for our city.” He said the issue was only brought about because of a three-year campaign from the Downey chapter of the Massachusetts-based Mass Resistance, which refers to itself as a “pro-family activist organization.” The Southern Poverty Law Center labeled the organization as an anti-LGBTQ+ hate group.

The group has also protested the nearby well-being centers, which offer therapy, wellness workshops, substance abuse education and safe spaces to cope with anxiety at the city’s high schools because they believed Planned Parenthood was involved.

Huntington Beach similarly voted to eliminate Pride flags from flying on city property and allowing only a select few banners in March. Like Downey, Huntington Beach also first flew its Pride flag in 2021.

In April, San Gabriel disbanded its equity commission, which some council members saw as unnecessary, despite pleas from LGBTQ+ activists.

Trujillo had a message to some members of the packed audience that filled the meeting.

“To the straight people, instead of wondering why an LGBT flag is flying, be thankful that you don’t need a straight flag because you haven’t been persecuted,” he said.

Frometa countered that the vote was “not an attack on any one community” and that “we are one nation and we salute our flag and that flag represents all of us.”

“I don’t want this message to be misconstrued and for the mayor’s comments that this council’s decision is a direct attack to the LGBTQ community,” she said. “That is untrue.”

The council’s previous policy was adopted in August 2022 and called for the flying of the four approved flags at city -owned or -operated facilities. Additional “commemorative flags” could only be displayed by City Council approval.

The city defined commemorative flags as flags that “symbolize a historical event, cause, nation, or group of people that the city council chooses to honor or commemorate.”

That policy came about after the council voted to display the Pride flag for June 2021.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn, whose area covers Downey, issued a statement on Wednesday afternoon, in part saying she “was disappointed in the Downey City Council’s decision, and I worry about the message it sends to LGBTQ+ residents in Downey.”

She said the flag would not disappear from the city, however, and could be seen on county property within the city, including at the Los Angeles County Office of Education, the county’s library headquarters and Los Amigos Golf Course.

“Thankfully, the Pride Flag will still fly over Downey this June,” she said. “My colleagues and I put in place a new policy last year to fly the Pride flag at all county facilities every June — including our eight county facilities in Downey.”

Last year, Hahn and the board also voted to fly the Pride flag at the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration building in downtown Los Angeles.

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