Los Olivos organizations host Pride flag raising ceremony after flag theft and burning

Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s deputies identified two young adults as suspects in the theft of two Pride flags in the Los Olivos area on July 28, according to Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Raquel Zick. 

“Deputies spent several days investigating the report, including collecting physical evidence, interviewing victims and witnesses, and tracking down a video of burning a pride flag,” Zick said in a statement. “[The two suspects] admitted to an additional theft of a Pride flag in the Ballard area as well as the burning of one of the flags in a video they shared on social media.” 

click to enlarge Los Olivos organizations host Pride flag raising ceremony after flag theft and burning
FLYING HIGH : A Pride flag was returned to its place at St. Mark’s in the Valley Church on Aug. 10 during a flag-raising ceremony that took place after the original was stolen by two community members.

The case was submitted to the county District Attorney’s Office, requesting petty theft and hate crimes charges, she added. 

Chief Deputy District Attorney Sonia Balleste told the Sun via email that she couldn’t comment on the incident because it’s under investigation. But she did say that in order to prosecute it as a hate crime, the District Attorney’s Office needs evidence “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the crime was motivated by hate and not an expression of the person’s First Amendment constitutional rights. 

“If a person commits a crime, and it is proven that the crime is also a hate crime, then the defendant can be charged with a felony and receive a penalty enhancement of up to three years,” Balleste explained. 

Kiel Cavalli—co-founder of Santa Ynez nonprofit The Rainbow House Inc.—said events like this aren’t new to the Santa Ynez Valley. 

“Growing up in the valley, these things have always happened, and I think in the age we are in with social media, people can be held accountable for what they have done. This is our opportunity as the queer community to say enough is enough and to address what this really means for us,” Cavalli said.

For him, the Pride flag represents basic rights for the LGBTQ-plus community to be seen, heard, and recognized. When someone takes the flag and burns it, Cavalli said it sends a signal to LGBTQ-plus people that there’s not a place in the community for them. 

“Oftentimes these hate crimes are brushed under the rug, and we are asked to forgive and forget, or to better the one who is doing the offense. We as victims are asked to educate, rather than we as victims being respected within that victimization, really,” he said. “It’s important to emphasize there was an act that caused us as a queer community to be victims, and it is not our job to educate the other side to be a better human. They have to not want to commit hate crimes.” 

In response, The Rainbow House Inc. distributed 25 flags to Los Olivos-based businesses and hosted a Pride flag-raising ceremony on Aug. 10 at St. Mark’s in the Valley Church to symbolize solidarity, he said. 

“It brings a rejuvenated acceptance to the area where the hate crimes occurred. It’s important to get those flags out and make sure those flags became available. The first 25 are gone, and there will be another 25 to 50 that The Rainbow House will donate so they aren’t flown just this week or Pride Month, but year-round,” Cavalli said.

Although the Pride flag distribution and the ceremony received positive feedback, Cavalli said he’s concerned about future hate crimes against the LGBTQ-plus community and how they might escalate. 

“I [saw] the video of them burning the flag and [heard] how much hatred was communicated through the words they said. To hear the intent and judgement is something that brings me to tears now,” he said. “It was a progression of targeted attacks against our communities. What’s to say the next attack wouldn’t be on someone or a business that’s queer-focused?” 

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