DELANO, Calif. (KERO) — The Delano City Council has voted in favor of a motion proposing to remove the Pride flag and the International Firefighter's Day flag from government properties, rescinding a 2021 decision to fly the two non-government flags.
The decision to move forward with the proposal to remove the two flags came after a long discussion between the council and various citizens. The majority of statements, however, did not address the removal of the International Firefighter's Day flag, also known as the Thin Red Line flag.
Despite the majority of statements being in support of the current ordinance, with 15 in support and 8 in opposition, the council voted to remove the two flags in a 3 to 1 vote.
"I feel that flying flags that represent certain subgroups of American citizens only serves to exclude and separate other subgroups and it also serves to promote one subgroup over another subgroup," said Anne McBride, the first speaker during the discussion, after asking the council to remove the flag ordinance allowing the Pride flag and the International Firefighters Day flag. "I feel that we should not be flying flags other than the United States flag and the California flag and other government flags because we want to unite everyone and make every person feel valid and valued within our population."
"No subgroup is more important than another," McBride continued. "The United States is a melting pot of every ethnic group and many persuasions. The United States flag and the California flag represent everyone and include everyone. We are all part of California and the United States. Those flags say we all belong and we are all important."
McBride ended her request by again asking the council to only fly government flags.
Following McBride in the request was River Lakes Church pastor and volunteer Bakersfield Police Department Chaplain Angelo Fraizer, who came to the podium waving a standard-size American flag. The Bakersfield pastor gave a speech on the American flag and who it represents, as well as what each fold when folding the US flag means.
"The first fold of our flag is a symbol of life," Fraizer began. "The second fold is a symbol of belief and eternal life. The third fold is made in honor, remembrance of those veterans who have departed. The fourth fold represents our weaker nature. The fifth fold is a tribute to our country in the words of our great country and dealing with our rights which still need to be fought for. Our sixfold is where our hearts lie. The sevenfold is a tribute to our armed forces. The eighth fold is a tribute to the one who entered the valley of death."
"The ninth fold is a tribute to womanhood and we can still say that," the pastor continued. "The 10th fold is a tribute to fathers who have given and sons who have given so much. The elevenfold represents the lower portion of the seal of King David. The 12th fold represents the emblem of eternity and glorifies the father, son, and holy spirit. In the thirteenfold, when last fold it's completely folded [and] the stars are uppermost, reminding us of our national motto: 'In God we trust'."
Pastor Fraizer then made the point that the American flag is the only flag to hold that meaning in its folds, meaning to him that it should be the only flag flown aside from the California state flag.
"We don't have enough room and enough space for everybody's preference," claimed Fraizer before asking for the city ordinance allowing the Pride flag and International Firefighter's Day flag to be flown on government property to be repealed.
Another person in opposition to the flag ordinance was Ana Bell, pastor of the Delano Church of the Nazarene. The pastor gave a speech about her childhood in El Salvador and her fond memories of the American flag, going to a school named after Abraham Lincoln.
"Liberty for all," said Bell. "It doesn't matter where you're coming from. It doesn't matter who you are. It doesn't matter what language you speak."
Bell, who says she is a teacher as well as a pastor, claimed that she teaches her students about the American flag and the flag salute.
"The flag is the meaning of every country, not just America," said Bell. "Who they are, where they come from, how [much] it cost, how many lives it cost being where we are right now. Those who fought for that flag gave their lives, their blood for us."
Bell then argued that putting up a flag other than the American flag would invite other groups to raise their flags as well, diminishing the value of the country's flag.
"Everybody's gonna come and say 'I want my flag too.' They did it," argued Bell, in reference to the requests for the Pride flag and International Firefighter's Day flag to be flown in 2021. "We don't have anything against any specific group, but you have hundreds of groups here."
"When I become a citizen of this country, I promise to serve this country, to respect the symbols that represent this country, and not to force myself into them to change it but to respect them," finished Bell.
Frazier and Bell were not the only pastors in opposition, as Pastor David Vivas of World Harvest International Church also commented, claiming that the LGBTQ+ community is not affected by hate in Delano and that Christians have not harmed them.
“I don’t know of any LGBTQ people that are being mistreated, that are being harassed,” said Vivas. “Yes, people have called names, but it’s not everyone is calling them names.”
“Muslims kill homosexuals in other nations, but you don’t see Christians killing homosexuals,” Vivas stated inaccurately, as the Ugandan parliament recently passed a law making homosexuality illegal and punishable by death in the name of Christianity. “The inference that Christians somehow mistreat them?”
Another pastor, Pastor Aries Quismundo of His Vineyard Christian Assembly, also was against the flag ordinance.
Not everyone was in opposition to the flag ordinance, however.
"I was so proud of our council for approving it last year or two years ago," said one woman who did not state her name, but was later identified as Suzanne Villaruz. "We were stopping the marginalization of a group of people."
"The people here, the people that have spoken, I noticed in the audience today that there are more pastors here than usual," she claimed. "That's wonderful, but is this a situation for our government or a situation for religion? Our flag means freedom of religion. It doesn't mean freedom from religion, but that's your choice.”
"The fact that you are increasing marginalization by stopping for 30 days a flag that means so much to some people?" Villaruz continued. "It is a small gesture for our government, for our city council to support those people. I'm not LGBTQ+, but I do have value and I feel for them because they are always constantly marginalized. They are always constantly judged in a country that celebrates freedom. Freedom of choice, freedom to live your life as you wish."
"This ordinance celebrates freedom. It celebrates your choice of God. It celebrates your choice of life. It celebrates your choice of who you love," Villaruz finished, before making a jab at a former speaker. "I mean that with all due respect, but please don't change this ordinance because of some people waving the flag in the name of veterans who fought for true freedom, which is choice."
Later on, Villaruz returned to the podium to suggest the addition of the Thin Blue Line flag to the ordinance, in support of the police.
The man who followed Villaruz was also in support of the ordinance and revealed that Villaruz and himself, along with a committee, put on the first Veteran's Day Parade in Delano, with flags coming out of their own finances. The man, who also did not name himself but was addressed as Mr. Morrisson, revealed he was a trumpet player for veteran services for decades, as well.
"The Pride flag, it's a flag of inclusion, not exclusion," said Morrison. "All it says is that for years, there have been many groups that have been marginalized. I know that it went through a little bit of turmoil to get up there, but I was very proud to see it up there. I do not have a problem with that flag being there."
"I also don't have a problem with the firefighter flag being up there either," Morrison said before finishing, being the first to address the International Firefighter's Day flag. "I just want to make that very clear."
The city council also allowed live online comments on the subject to be made. During this time, Delano resident Yolanda Vega made a statement in support of the ordinance.
"I believe that if the city council decides to change the ordinance, we would be going back on everything we stand for," said Vega. "This is a melting pot."
"I believe that this group of people have been marginalized for many, many years and I believe that they deserve this flag to be on that pole for 30 days," she continued. "I think that we're going backward. We're reverting instead of progressing and moving forward."
"If our White House can fly this flag, I don't understand why our city cannot be inclusive as well," Vega finished.
Another online caller and Delano resident in support of the ordinance was Hector Jimenez, who identified himself as a "proud queer man" before telling the council statistics on anti-LGBTQ+ bills across the country.
"I think it's important to contextualize what is going on here today," began Jimenez. "Nationwide, there has been about 427 anti-LGBTQ bills in the United States. Nationwide, there's been a national sentiment, like many other speakers described, about going back in history. I feel like this is a subset of what's going on nationally in our local government."
According to the Human Rights Campaign organization website, the number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills in the United States was over 340 as of Feb 15 of this year.
Jimenez then asked allies who serve on the council to step up for the LGBTQ+ community before giving his own personal story on why the Pride flag is important, while also describing the slurs he was called as a queer man by Christians in Delano.
"Delano produces a lot of intelligent and fierce advocates," Jimenez began to wrap up. "A lot of people who graduated from a high school go to our colleges but they move away because either there is not a lot of jobs in the city or a lot of acceptance in the city. That's what happened to me and a lot of my friends from high school, I graduated from Cesar Chavez High School."
"Moving forward means flying this flag and allowing a lot of those people who move away to see that Delano is actually a welcoming place and that they don't need to move away," he finished.
Not all online comments were in support of the ordinance, however. One man said that he is in opposition to the two flags flying even though he was in support of the International Firefighter's Day flag flying on a separate pole.
"I appreciated the one for the firefighters, recognizing their contributions and those who perished in 9/11 and other cases but that's not the place for that flag," said Steve Kenzie. "I think that if you had a flagpole that was separate, maybe a recognition pole that flies those flags. If not, the best place is in your home or on your vehicle to show support for those subgroups and marginalized communities that need to be represented."
Kenzie also mentioned that he was “not real crazy about the California flag” being flown as well before stating that he was against the Pride flag because it “symbolizes sexuality and gender identity,” which he feels is “inappropriate.”
Following the end of the first online discussion, Delano resident Brian Osorio gave comments in support of the flag ordinance, specifically addressing the International Firefighter’s Day flag.
“To me, the way I justify the Thin Red Line flag was [that] it was requested by a community member whose son had fallen as a firefighter due to a tragic accident in Porterville,” said Osorio. “If flying this flag was going to bring closure to the community [and] respect that fallen firefighter’s memory, then I was on board with that.”
Later on in the night, Delano resident Lupe Martinez gave an emotional speech in front of the city council on his opinion on the matter.
“What we need to do is we need to love everybody,” said Martinez. “I have family members who are gay, who also went into the Army, who also went in the Navy, who were in different positions. I had friends who lost their lives [in] Vietnam, et cetera. Were they less? Did their parents love them less? No. Should we love them less? We shouldn’t.”
“We talk about flags, but we’re really talking about particular people,” he continued. “A particular group. So really what it is, it’s no different than when the farm worker movement started or before that. We can go back and look at all of those things.”
“The UFW has a flag,” explained Martinez before requesting the council to not rescind the flag policy. “Would we like for it to fly over City Hall? Sure. Why not? I did it in Toronto, Canada and we flew that flag in Toronto, Canada.”
Overall, 23 people spoke on the topic. Following this, the council opened a discussion among themselves on the subject.
“This has nothing to do with [what] anybody is talking about or saying or anything like that. We’re making it an issue that it is not,” claimed Councilmember Mario Nunez, who proposed the change to the ordinance and voted against the ordinance in 2021. “We are dividing ourselves.”
“The reason I brought this up, and I also brought this back up in 2021, I truly 110 percent believed that the only flags [that] should be flown at City Hall in Delano should be the American flag, state of California flag, and the POW flag,” explained Nunez.
Nunez then suggested the addition of a Delano city flag to his proposed ordinance of only government flags, should it ever be made.
“If the city in the future decides that we want to make our own city flags like many other cities have, let’s make that flag and we can also fly that flag. That is a flag that was put together by our community, not an individual group or anybody who thinks differently.”
Nunez followed by stating that he is not homophobic, racist, or xenophobic before claiming that he has a brother, a sister, a niece, nephews, and multiple friends who identify as gay or lesbian.
“If you read the last part of the Pledge of Allegiance, it reads ‘one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,’” he continued, stressing “for all.” “It doesn’t pick a specific group or a specific person or anybody like that.”
Nunez then paraphrased a quote from the right-wing political non-profit organization Gay Against Groomers, which has been described as an “anti-LGBTQ+ extremist coalition” by the Anti-Defamation League and was released from a partnership with online print company Printful for “homophobic, transphobic misinformation that harms LGBTQ+ communities.”
“It says ‘we in the city,’ and then they named their city or their town or anything else and I’ll say Delano, ‘are a community with many different cultures and people,’” paraphrased Nunez. “All of us are equally valued members of our community and our nation. None of us are to be treated differently or discriminated against.”
Councilmember Veronica Vasquez, the only council member who voted in support of keeping the flag ordinance as it is, spoke after Nunez.
“This group [the LGBTQ+ community] has a high suicide rate and they don’t feel welcomed,” said Vasquez. “Hearing the comments today, they’re not going to feel welcomed. Many people I know moved out of this community because they weren’t welcomed.”
“When we approved this flag, I had family come from out of town just to take a picture [of Delano City hall] outside because they finally felt like they were approved by their community,” she continued. “It was a big deal. You might think ‘it’s not a big deal, it means nothing.’ It’s a very big deal. This saves people’s lives, as much as you want to be in denial about it.”
“This represents a lot of people in our community and if we vote this down, it’s going to be a major disappointment because we came with no solution” finished Vasquez. “We’re just going to strip it away from them.”
Following Vasquez, Councilmember Liz Morris, who voted against the flag ordinance in 2021, stated that she loves everyone regardless of race or gender, however, she is against the ordinance because of her respect for the American flag. She then gave a personal story about the reaction to her 2021 vote.
“When I voted against it the last time, there was a lot of talk about me,” said Morris while crying. “Why I voted against it and that I was racist and it’s not true because I have many in my family who are gay. Many of my friends are gay.”
Morris suggested that instead of raising the Pride flag, and subsequently the International Firefighter’s Day flag, on City Hall’s pole, the city should have a separate poll for non-government flags.
Following Morris was the final city council member in attendance, Delano Mayor Joe Alindajao.
“I think a key fundamental issue that I think we need to ask ourselves is this: Does the government have the power to affirm a group to the extent that it can demarginalize that group?” Nunez began. “That’s the issue here. [The issue] is the power of the government. Because that’s what we’re asking. ‘Can the government fly certain flags, certain groups’ flags?’
“The answer is ‘no, it cannot,’” he followed up.
“What’s interesting about this debate is that many of us, perhaps in this room, have demonized the government, have called it unfair, evil, corrupt,” continued Alindajao. “We’re asking this same government to fly a certain group’s flag and ask it to do something for that group that government simply does not have the power to do.”
Alindajao also spoke in defense of the council members against the flag ordinance.
“I think it’s [an] unfair argument to accuse some of the council members of being homophobic or hateful or whatnot,” he said. “It was many of us here on the council, including myself, who supported the co-sponsorship of the LGBTQ use of a government facility just not that very long ago.”
Mayor Alindajao finished with his explanation for his own rejection of the flag ordinance.
“I voted against the Thin Red Line [flag] because it wasn’t good public policy. I voted against the LGBTQ flag because it’s not good policy. In fact, when the flag ordinance was voted on, I made a comment and a promise to the public that I would vote a ‘no’ on every single flag that came before this council because it’s not good public policy.”
The discussion ended with an official motion proposed by Nunez to amend the 2021 flag ordinance so that only government flags could fly. The motion was approved in a 3 to 1 vote, with Mayor Alindajao, Nunez, and Morris voting in favor of the proposal and Vasquez voting against it.
A new flag ordinance will be discussed and voted on in April.
The full Delano City Council meeting can be watched below. The discussion of the flag ordinance begins approximately one hour and 14 minutes into the meeting.