The rainbow flag associated with the LGBTQ community has never been flown at Fresno City Hall. That appears set to change next month during a ceremony recognizing Gay Pride month, which organizers say will include an official raising of the Pride flag.
The June 11 event was announced on Facebook by Jeffery Robinson, CEO of Community Link — which oversees Fresno Rainbow Pride.
But before that could happen, the City Council needed to change the policy on who controls the flying of flags in front of City Hall. Currently, the flag poles are under the jurisdiction of the city manager.
In a 5-2 vote on Thursday, the Fresno City Council transferred that power to themselves. The new policy says a flag, or special lighting, can be used in conjunction with a ceremonial proclamation. Councilmen Luis Chavez and Garry Bredefeld voted no.
If a councilmember finds such a flag “supports illegal discrimination, prejudice or religious movements” a vote can be taken to rescind the ceremonial flag raising.
Emotional Exchange Between Councilmember and Mayor
The debate saw a rare emotional outburst from Mayor Jerry Dyer, when the flagpole ordinance’s sponsor, Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria, accused him of hypocrisy.
“What makes me extremely sad that you supposedly are saying we want One Fresno, but as soon as we are trying to raise the pride flag, you make it…”
“That’s absolutely a lie, Councilmember Soria,” Dyer said cutting Soria off. “It has nothing to do with a pride flag. It has opened it up to organizations that may want to fly a flag like MAGA that may want to fly a flag like the Proud Boys… Don’t misstate who I am.”
He later apologized for getting upset.
Mayor, Bredefeld Have Reservations
Councilman Garry Bredefeld said the city is putting itself on a “slippery slope.”
“This is destructive. It’s divisive. It will be divisive. And I think this council is going to rue the day that this happened because people are going to be offended by this. The people will be outraged by what’s out there,” Bredefeld said. “There will be people from any kind of group that can put pressure on a council member to fly their flag, justifying it for whatever reason. And it will happen.”
Dyer had issues with religious flags being excluded. City Attorney Douglas Sloan explained that such a flag would violate the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. However, a government flag that has a religious symbol — such as Israel or the Vatican — is allowed.
The mayor had no problem signing a Gay Pride resolution.
“When we start excluding faith-based organizations, I think we’re going to we’re not going to have One Fresno. We’re going to have a tremendous divide. We’re going to have people really taking issue with it. And I think it’s going to create a problem for all of us on this dais,” Dyer said.
The resolution changed from its original form. The initial version would require a council vote for any flag request; now it is part of a ceremonial process, which does not require a vote. A flag raising/ceremony can be rescinded by a council vote.
Also, the standard for objecting to a flag changed from being “offensive,” to a more defined version.
Flags of other countries have flown on City Hall flagpoles. The Armenian flag is raised to commemorate the genocide. By city code, the U.S., state, city and POW/MIA flags must be flown. The Confederate flag is specifically banned.
Pride Group Hopeful
Robinson said he’s “overwhelming proud and hopeful.”
“It’s absolutely amazing. It is a testament to the changing times of our society, particularly here in the United States and particularly specifically really here for the Central Valley and in Fresno,” Robinson said.
He says this as a benefit to the LGBT community.
“It will recharge the psychic batteries for everybody that puts up with a lot of homophobia and intolerance here to know that they are accepted and included as part of the fabric of this great city,” Robinson said.
Battle in Kingsburg
Last week, Kingsburg City Councilwoman Jewel Hurtado — a member of the LGBT community — proposed flying the rainbow flag at Kingsburg’s City Hall.
The request met with fierce opposition led by the Fresno County Republican Party. After four hours of debate, Hurtado’s motion failed when it did not receive a second.