Solvang residents say Pride banners promote politics and exclusivity, while LGBTQ-plus community members say they promote acceptance and inclusion

Editor’s note: This is the second installment of a two-part series on the conversation surrounding a proposal to hang Pride banners and paint crosswalks with rainbow colors in Solvang during Pride Month in June. The first part, “Solvang's denial of Pride banners goes against Denmark's progressive LGBTQ-plus policies, advocates say,” published on March 23.

Pride flags were a source of comfort for Addisyn before she came out to her parents as bisexual about four months ago.

“Now that I’m out and seeing more flags, I feel represented, loved, and safe,” she said. “Seeing queer representation is a calming and reassuring aspect a town should have.” 

The 15-year-old Santa Ynez resident shared this with Solvang City Council members during a recent hearing about hanging Pride-themed banners from city light poles during Pride Month in June. She told the Sun that she feels supported by her family, but didn’t see that support mirrored by members of the community and its elected officials. She called the City Council’s decision to deny the proposal “heartbreaking.” 

“It was upsetting, tears were shed, but we did everything we could. We’ll do more,” said Addisyn, whose mother requested her last name be withheld.

click to enlarge Solvang residents say Pride banners promote politics and exclusivity, while LGBTQ-plus community members say they promote acceptance and inclusion
REPRESENTATION MATTERS : Having Pride banners displayed in Solvang’s downtown would promote inclusion and show support for those in the LGBTQ-plus community, advocates said.

Addisyn told the Sun that the applicants and their supporters made very good points and there was nothing wrong with the proposal, but other residents and City Council members said that Pride banners promoted political views, divided the community, and veered away from Solvang’s “welcoming” brand. 

City Council rejected the proposal 3-2 (with Councilmembers Claudia Orona and Elizabeth Orona dissenting) on Feb. 27, saying that the banners didn’t comply with the city’s policies. The proposal also asked to temporarily repaint two crosswalks in downtown Solvang with a rainbow pattern, which was also rejected due to traffic safety concerns. The Rainbow House Inc.’s reapplication was recently denied and will not go before Solvang City Council again.  

Although the vote upset her, Addisyn told the Sun that speaking as a representative of the LGBTQ-plus youth in the community during public comment took a weight off her shoulders.

“Our opinions matter,” she said. “We’re also affected by the decisions that are made like this because it sticks around … and we grow up with it.” 

Acceptance, not activism

Santa Ynez resident Kevin Keating sent a 13-page public comment letter to the city of Solvang about the proposal. He’s one of more than 20 residents who opposed the project by writing a letter to the city or speaking during public comment at the Feb. 27 meeting. 

In Keating’s letter, he said that the rainbow banners and painted crosswalks would promote “radical gender ideology” and push the city into a “new socio-political movement.” 

“Pride and especially transgender flags are overtly political, being gay, lesbian, transgender, etc., is not,” Keating wrote. “Pride flags are part of a left-wing political ideology called intersectionality, which seeks to divide every person by their race, nationality, religion, and sexuality among other things. Conservatives such as myself are strongly against this division.” 

Keating submitted screenshots from the White House website discussing the Biden administration’s National Strategy to Gender Equity and Equality as “evidence” to demonstrate “the political nature of the combination of LGBT, gender, and intersectionality.” 

“If visitors show up to Solvang for their traditional expectations and see it marinating in Pride and transgender paraphernalia, they will not be back. (The trans flag in particular is controversial and often is bootstrapped to the Pride flag, yet it is associated with the grooming of young children to undergo gender transitions while they’re very young),” he wrote.  

He added that he isn’t against LGBTQ-plus people or their right to live as they please, adding that he has friends and family within the gay community and has zero problems with it, but the flags bring “politically fraught, big-city, adult themes” to the quaint town.

“Solvang doesn’t need a makeover. Everyone is welcome of course, but straight or gay visitors are coming in droves for the hotels, the food, the traditional crafts, the wine, the museums, the arts, the [D]anish architecture, but not for in-your-face, divisive, and political flags/crosswalks,” Keating said. 

Santa Ynez resident Jason Stone told the Sun that it’s not political to include Pride banners within a community, rather it’s a symbol of acceptance and safety. 

“Passively implied acceptance is not enough,” Stone said. “If historically, a disenfranchised community has been actively silenced, we need to do more and be active. We need to be sure we are saying that we accept you, we recognize you, and you are supported.”

Stone works in sexual health and education at UC Santa Barbara and has a background in well-being, health promotion, and public health. He noted that he is not speaking on behalf of the university but pulling from his own experiences.

“Studies show that when we have more visibility, more conversations, more education, and more representation, and when cities take a progressive approach, then we see a reduction in harm,” he said, “and it also changes the attitude of people that are not a part of this community, and thereby reduces the harm they are doing.”  

According to the Trevor Project’s 2022 national survey on LGBTQ youth mental health, about 45 percent of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, 73 percent reported they’ve experienced discrimination, and 36 percent reported they have been physically threatened due to their identity. 

The study continued by saying those who live in a community that is accepting of LGBTQ-plus people reported significantly lower rates of attempting suicide than those who do not. 

“If putting up a flag makes one person or 10 people feel more supported or honored, we should put up the flags,” Stone said. “If we always focus on [the] majority needs, we’ll never meet the minority.”

A ‘welcoming’ town

Mayor Mark Infanti told the Sun that Solvang is already welcoming to everyone. 

“How does a flag that represents one group of people make it open for all people?” he asked. “Any one particular flag representing one particular organization doesn’t make it sound like it’s welcoming to all.” 

During the Feb. 27 council meeting, Infanti said that he doesn’t think the Pride banners will make anybody more accepting and hasn’t seen “the prejudice that seems to be being expressed.” 

David Silva, Stone’s husband and fellow resident, said during public comment at that meeting that he’s been “called a fag in this community in the last two years more than I can count.” When his husband went through cancer treatment, the couple didn’t receive condolences at first because people thought Stone had AIDS. 

“It’s uncomfortable to be told that homophobia doesn’t exist in this area—that we’re just like everybody else—and not have it be told from people who have that lived experience. Who knows what it’s like to be scared to hold hands; to be asked if we’re splitting bills because we must be roommates,” Silva said. 

Councilmember Robert Clarke said that Solvang is “the friendliest goddamn town” he’s ever lived in after living in other cities like Chicago, New York, and San Francisco, and he took offense to people saying otherwise. 

“The people here are welcoming, they’re warm, they embrace everybody, and I just feel so welcome in this town. It’s a wonderful wonderful place, and everybody is open to everybody,” Clarke said. 

However, the Santa Ynez Valley is not without prejudice and even violence against the LGBTQ-plus community. 

On March 23, the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office announced that Santa Ynez Valley residents Avi Williams and Joshua Eligino were charged with two misdemeanors of violating civil rights and committing petty crimes after stealing two Pride flags in Los Olivos, burning one, and posting the video on social media in July 2022. 

“The amount of emotion the community went through because of these acts was unmeasurable,” LGBTQ-plus nonprofit The Rainbow House Inc. said in a statement. “There was a tremendous amount of anger, worry, and concern of LGBTQIA[-plus] community.” 

Kiel Cavalli, The Rainbow House Inc.’s co-founder, said he’s always felt like an outsider and heard negative comments about his sexual identity growing up in the Santa Ynez Valley. 

“I’ve always been aware of what kind of underbelly, of what the Valley really is and how people really feel,” Cavalli said. “Once you wipe the lens a little bit, you get a clearer picture of what’s going on here and the suppression people are feeling.”  

Cavalli and his husband, Matt, have been called pedophiles and received online threats from community members saying they’d call the Department of Social Services to remove the couple’s adopted children from their custody, he said. 

“It was very shocking at first, but it really highlights the work that still needs to happen, and that’s why we can’t back down,” Cavalli said. “It’s not personal gain other than [for] us being able to hold hands walking down the street.”

Reach Staff Writer Taylor O’Connor at [email protected].

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