OC Supervisors vote to only fly U.S., state, county flags on county property

The Orange County Board of Supervisors Tuesday narrowly approved a new policy to fly only the federal, state and county flags on county property.

The move came after a failed effort from Supervisors Katrina Foley and Vince Sarmiento backing a proclamation in support of Pride Month to honor the LGBTQ community.

The supervisors voted 3-2 to support the new flag policy from board Vice Chairman Andrew Do. Sarmiento and Foley voted no.

Do emphasized that he wanted the new policy to keep the county out of supporting any particular interest group, but the debate ended up revolving around the rainbow-colored Pride Flag, which Sarmiento and Foley had displayed on the dais before them.

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"The flag policy that I proposed today has nothing to do with any particular cause or social issue," Do said. "We have speakers from both sides so both sides can claim they're right and there have been efforts to define my item as one being exclusionary, particularly with respect to sexual orientation and I want to unequivocally refute that point."

Do noted he championed Dr. Clayton Chau as head of the Orange County Health Care Agency during the coronavirus pandemic.

"Orange County is welcoming to everyone," Do said. "This board has demonstrated that over and over. I recruited Dr. Chau, a member of the LGBTQ community, here during COVID to head of our health care agency."

Do said that "knowing the sensitivity of the LGBTQ community, I organized PODS and testing sites specifically for that community (during the pandemic), and I, in fact, was so moved at one of these events that when I came back I worked with Dr. Chau to stand up the very first wraparound services, the community center for the trans community in Orange County. So Orange County, and particularly this board of supervisors, has always been accepting."

Do argued that he believed "only three flags should fly on government buildings because they speak for all of us collectively. And the U.S. flag stands for our American values, freedom and equality for all. These values are recognized around the world, which is why we as a country are so revered as beacons of liberty and justice.

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"We don't need any other symbols surrounding that flag, the U.S. flag or the state flag or the county flag because they reflect for us the values that we have here as a nation today," he added.

Do amended his proposal to include the POW-MIA flags at the request of Supervisor Doug Chaffee, and clarified that it would not just apply to government buildings but on government property such as parks. It does not limit any flags individuals want to display in private areas such as in their cubicle at a government office.

"If you have a window office in this building — as has been done in the past — you can put a flag up there," Board Chairman Don Wagner said. "Those are individual First Amendment choices. Those are individuals, not government speech."

Foley asked whether Do consulted with other county elected leaders such as District Attorney Todd Spitzer, Sheriff Don Barnes or Superior Court Presiding Judge Maria Hernandez.

"That question assumes I have a responsibility to do so in order to vote for this proposed policy today so I will not respond to that," Do said.

"We know this is not about (constitutional) law — this is really more of a political decision," Foley said. "As the sixth-largest economy in America and the fourth-largest economy in California, as the home of Disneyland, as the home of Vans, as the home of so many corporations who are inclusive and express that inclusivity, they're supporting Pride not because it's divisive, but because it's inclusive. It's a representation of diversity."

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Prohibiting a Pride Flag on county property "sends the wrong message to America and to the world," she said.

Sarmiento noted how he and Foley attempted to get a proclamation in support of Pride Month on the agenda but it was rejected as missing the deadline. Foley insisted she got it in on time.

"I don't think there's any coincidence" that the proposal was made Tuesday, Sarmiento said. "It's more of a consequence of what we tried to do."

Sarmiento noted the high level of suicide and depression in the LGBTQ community.

"My son, who is queer, says those numbers are totally underestimated," Sarmiento said. "To me, it is personal. We have to have a talk with my son whenever he goes and when he wants to show affection to his partner. Don't hold his hand, don't embrace him, don't have him do all of these things we take for granted, and he cannot because there is still rampant hate in this county, unfortunately."

Sarmiento said flying the Pride Flag is like celebrating the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday.

"I think the government in the past has recognized communities that have struggled. We celebrate Martin Luther King because he was a civil rights activist and leader and we all know as a country that's struggled with racism and discrimination in the past. It's also the reason why we recognize Cesar Chavez Day," Sarmiento said.

Sarmiento suggested flying the Pride Flag year-round.

"I'd like to be neutral to everyone," Chaffee said. "There is a reason why this office is non-partisan."

Chaffee said debates over flags was "a distraction that takes me away" from doing county business that he said was more important. He said he would support a proclamation in support of Pride Month, just not the flag.