In the ‘sweet little town’ of Arroyo Grande, the pride flag is condemned as ‘ungodly’ | Opinion

So here we are, in 2023, still debating whether a city in progressive California should fly the rainbow flag in support of the LGBTQ+ community.

It’s happened in Solvang. In Huntington Beach. In Delano.

Now the drama is playing out in Arroyo Grande, a friendly, politically moderate community — a place the mayor pro team refers to as “our sweet little town.”

Yet even sweet little towns aren’t immune to bigotry and intolerance.

That was evident from the many spoken and written comments submitted to the Arroyo Grande City Council, opposing the city’s plan to once again fly the rainbow flag during the month of June, in recognition of Pride Month.

An ‘ungodly symbol’

The flag was branded “an ungodly symbol”; an “impediment to peace and happiness”; a celebration of “men scantily clad in female attire reading to young children.”

Some claimed it was “unAmerican” to fly the Pride flag and insisted that only the American flag and the state flag should be flown on public property.

A few people foolishly argued that it would be a waste of taxpayer money to hoist flags at City Hall and Heritage Square Park — even though the city already owns the flags and it takes — what? — mere minutes to raise and lower a flag.

There were some facetious calls to fly a flag in honor of heterosexuals; others asked for flags honoring people with disabilities or faith groups.

“We’d like to have Jesus Christ honored and put our flag up there too,” one woman said.

Many who oppose flying the pride flag say they have nothing against the LGBTQ+ community; some may even point out that they have friends and relatives who are gay.

Yet from what we heard, it appears there are a fair number of people in the South County who would prefer that members of the LGBTQ+ community get back in the closet and stay there forever.

Calls for a boycott

Some of the written comments submitted before Tuesday night’s council meeting were especially incendiary.

There were several references to the need to shield children, as if flying a flag on city property would suddenly “turn” children gay or transgender.

“Flying this flag where children will walk by on a daily basis is not healthy for the children of our community. Will the flying of this flag not cause more gender confusion for our children?” Jeremy Sutherland, an associate pastor at Harvest Church, wrote in a letter to the council.

Linda Ruberto cautioned the council against supporting a “perverse sexual orientation.”

And Elliot Talley, a member of the family that operates a popular South County winery, linked the flag to “the trend of sexualizing kids at a young age by encouraging them to get brutal sex changes as a minor and performing drag shows around innocent little children.”

Talley’s statement, along with similar statements from two other members of the Talley family, led to calls for a boycott; some took to social media to say they have already canceled their subscription to produce boxes from Talley Farms.

Brain Talley, president/CEO of Talley Vineyards, issued a statement distancing himself from the remarks made “by family members adjacent to our business.”

“Talley Vineyards believes in inclusivity and equality in all forms and we pridefully support and employ members of the LGBTQ+ community,” he wrote on Facebook, underneath a photo of a rainbow over the vineyard.

He also wrote this: “In every family, there are members who have differing opinions and our family is no different.”

That’s very true, but it may require more than a couple of brief statements to convince customers that Talley Vineyards is an ally of the LGBTQ+ community — such as flying the pride flag for all to see.

5-0 vote

There were numerous calls of support for the city, both at the meeting and on social media.

Several expressed disappointment that this would happen in their hometown; others asked what they could do to support the LGBTQ+ community.

“I want them to know the people who wrote those letters don’t represent the vast majority of us,” one person posted on Reddit.

We don’t doubt that, but unfortunately, it’s the ugly, bigoted comments that are remembered and can harm the reputation of a community.

This makes it all the more important for the city of Arroyo Grande to stand strong against efforts to bully them into submission — which it has.

While some communities have taken the easy way out to avoid controversy — they’ve decided to fly only official government flags — Arroyo Grande passed an ordinance that allows the council to vote on whether to fly other flags.

Based on their unanimous vote and the individual comments they made Tuesday night, council members are more committed than ever to supporting the LGBTQ+ community by raising the pride flag.

“Let’s show this marginalized community that we see them, and not only do we see them, we support them,” Mayor Pro Tem Kristen Barneich said.

The council’s decision won’t win votes from those who would demonize the pride flag and, by extension, the LGBTQ+ community.

But they should earn them the respect of the majority of Arroyo Grande residents who strive to make their community not only a sweet little town, but also a welcoming and inclusive one.