What started as a simple proposal to hang Pride banners throughout June in Solvang turned into a months-long, widespread debate that received international attention and highlighted historic discrimination against the LGBTQ-plus community in the Danish-themed town.
“The banners are not what caused the division; people have created the division. Me being gay is not being political,” Kiel Cavalli said during public comment at the April 24 City Council meeting. “I have nothing to gain from this other than representation. Other than my kids walking down the street, seeing a rainbow banner on a light pole for two weeks and saying, ‘Papa, look at that. That’s who we are.’”
After two hours of public comment and discussion, people cheered, applauded, gasped, and shouted “no” as the Solvang City Council voted 3-2 (with councilmembers Robert Clarke and David Brown dissenting) to approve the LGBTQ-plus nonprofit The Rainbow House Inc.’s reapplication to hang redesigned, Pride-themed banners for two weeks in June.
“What became evident throughout this entire thing is the fact that systematic homophobia and racism is not just visible, but encouraged within the council and within their communication,” said Cavalli, one of the co-founders of the Rainbow House Inc.
When the nonprofit first proposed the project, Solvang residents and City Council members claimed that Pride banners go against the city’s Danish roots, promote the politics and exclusivity of one group, and are not a symbol that is welcoming to all.
“You cannot say this town is welcoming and kind unless you have been gay and walking in my street while being spat upon. By being told that I am not enough, that I am not welcome, and [being] called slurs that I will not repeat,” Cavalli said.
The approved, redesigned banner will say “Solvang Pride” in the center with “All Welcome” in English beneath it and a windmill blocked in rainbow colors.
Councilmember Elizabeth Orona said that the applicant modified the proposal in a way that aligns with other applications the city’s accepted in the past and that the city has an opportunity to move forward in a positive way.
“I want to acknowledge that this is probably uncomfortable for many people who don’t understand this community, but that is the point,” Orona said. “We need to move forward and accept some change and accept some discomfort, and frankly we already made this decision 10 months ago when we proclaimed the Pride Month of June and we agreed to a parade.”
In that context, she added, this application is “simply to enhance this event” and adding eight banners to city lightposts is “really pretty simple,” she said.
Following the approval, City Council also reviewed Solvang’s banner policy guidelines in order to avoid situations like this from happening in the future. According to the staff report, the city’s banner policy was last updated in 2011 and says that banners need to assist in advertising and promoting destinations or events that support tourism in Solvang, must be a part of a Solvang-sponsored special event, and match the Danish theme.
After debate that took the meeting past 11 p.m., the City Council voted 4-1 (with Councilmember Clarke dissenting) to only allow the Solvang banner, which features the Danish flag and a gold crown, to hang on all street lights for the moment—with the exception of the approved Pride banners and the Pacific Conservatory Theatre’s banners. The city will no longer accept banner applications, but may add banners to an integrated marketing plan that the city plans to develop, Orona said.
“A banner isn’t going to drive someone to the city, but a banner could drive them to do something additional while they’re here, or to an event they didn’t know about—especially when it’s in anticipation of an event,” she said. “It gives the city personality.”