Downey will stop flying Pride flag. Some call it 'a step backward for our city'

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 01: The Progress Pride Flag flies over the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration for the first time in downtown on Thursday, June 1, 2023 in Los Angeles, CA. L.A. County Supervisors Janice Hahn, Hilda Solis, Kathryn Barger and Lindsey Horvath will join county Assessor Jeff Prang, and Sister Tootie Toot of the group the L.A. Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence to raise the Progress Pride Flag over the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration. It will mark the first time a pride flag has flown over a county building. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
The Progress Pride Flag flies along with the Los Angeles city flag over the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration in downtown L.A. The Downey City Council reversed a previous policy that allowed the Pride flag to fly over City Hall. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

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 vote amended the city’s policy to allow the display of only the flags of the United States, the state, the city and prisoners of war.

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.

Read more: Huntington Beach votes to ban Pride flags at city buildings

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."

Read more: Pride flag flies at the Hall of Administration — a first for an L.A. County building

"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.

Los Angeles County Assessor Jeff Prang, president of the L.A. County LGBTQ+ Elected Officials Assn., said he was stunned three City Council members would openly vote against two LGBTQ+ officials in Trujillo and Ortiz.

“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," Prang said in an emailed statement. "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.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.