OCEANSIDE — The City Council failed to adopt a controversial policy that would have excluded the flying of commemorative flags, including the pride flag, at city buildings.
Since Oceanside does not have a flag policy, Councilmember Rick Robinson, with support from Councilmember Peter Weiss, put forth a proposal allowing only the official flags of the United States, California and the city of Oceanside to be flown at municipal locations.
The policy would have provided some exceptions, including allowing the POW/MIA flag at City Hall and flags mourning the loss of police officers, firefighters and lifeguards at the city’s public safety buildings.
At the Dec. 6 meeting, Robinson said he came up with the policy after a resident requested the city fly a flag promoting the pro-life or anti-abortion cause.
“The intention was to develop a flag policy not to show favoritism or disdain for any group, but to recognize these powerful symbols that represent us,” Robinson said. “I’m not against the LGBTQ community in any way, but I am very much for the things that unite us all.”
Robinson said the city, state and federal flags represent and unite all O’siders, while the POW/MIA flag acknowledges the ongoing effort to recover the still missing remains of more than 81,000 Americans during multiple wars and conflicts, including World War II. Robinson, a veteran, said including this flag would fulfill the wishes of several long-term veteran residents of Oceanside.
The proposal began receiving pushback from several community members who felt the policy targeted the LGBTQ pride or rainbow flag a week before the council’s discussion.
Max Disposti, executive director and founder of the Oceanside-based North County LGBTQ Resource Center, called the policy “exclusionary” and harmful to the city’s LGBTQ community members in a Nov. 28 letter addressed to city leaders.
According to Disposti, the policy, regardless of intent, could potentially undermine the LGBTQ civil rights movement and encourage attacks against the community.
“This proposal would send a clear message across the county and the state that Oceanside has caved into the narrative of hate by turning back the clock and by making its LGBTQI+ residents and city staff feel less safe,” Disposti wrote.
According to City Attorney John Mullen, the city has only flown the federal, state and city flags. Mullen recommended having a policy in place to allow other flags, like the pride flag, to be flown. Such flags would be classified as “government speech” that promotes the city’s values.
Around a dozen residents spoke against Robinson’s proposed policy, with several noting that they would like to see a policy that allows the city to fly the pride flag instead.
Nick Mortaloni, dean of student affairs at MiraCosta College, recalled how the college raised the intersex-inclusive “progress pride” flag on all three of its campuses for the first time earlier this year. Mortaloni encouraged the city to do the same.
“We did this because it was the right thing to do, and because over 20% of our student population identifies as LGBTQIA+; that’s 20% of the thousands of students we’re talking about who felt a sense of belonging and pride by coming onto campus and seeing the pride flag wave and proud along with the federal and state flags.
In his letter, Disposti said the cities of Encinitas, Carlsbad, Vista, San Diego and Chula Vista have flown the pride flag during LGBTQ Pride Month in June.
Several Oceanside residents also spoke in support of Robinson’s policy.
“I think the flags need to be signs of unity and something that represents everybody,” said Sandra Martinez.
Resident Richard Newton said flags historically symbolized conquest over an opposing side.
“Flag displays by third-party groups are not appropriate,” Newton said. “They represent special interests and signify the exclusionary privilege of members of that group; therefore, they are divisive by nature.”
Ultimately, the proposal failed, as did efforts from Councilmember Eric Joyce and Mayor Esther Sanchez that would have either specifically included the pride flag or allowed commemorative flags to be flown at the city’s discretion.