Solvang's denial of Pride banners goes against Denmark's progressive LGBTQ-plus policies, advocates say

Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a two-part series on the conversations surrounding a proposal to hang Pride banners and paint a crosswalk with rainbow colors in Solvang during Pride Month in June. The second part, "Solvang residents say Pride banners promote politics and exclusivity, while LGBTQ-plus community members say they promote acceptance and inclusion," published on March 30.

Matt and Kiel Cavalli’s 6-year-old boy asked if his parents would be killed like Martin Luther King Jr. after their proposal to hang Pride banners ended with uproar at a recent Solvang City Council meeting. 

“It’s just scary that this mind at 6 years old comes to this after what was said over this board meeting,” Matt Cavalli, co-founder of the local nonprofit The Rainbow House Inc., told the Sun. “We are not only speaking to him as [parents], but we’re speaking to him as gay individuals within the community, and it was a lot.” 

As the first LGBTQ-plus resource center in the Santa Ynez Valley founded in 2022, The Rainbow House Inc. hopes to “create a refuge for the queer community” and promote acceptance and peace for their community. 

click to enlarge Solvang's denial of Pride banners goes against Denmark's progressive LGBTQ-plus policies, advocates say
PARADE, BUT NO BANNERS : Although the Solvang City Council approved the second annual Pride parade and festival, it rejected a proposal from The Rainbow House Inc. to hang Pride-themed banners during June.

Pursuing their nonprofit’s mission, the Cavallis proposed that Solvang hang Pride-themed streetlight banners and temporarily repaint the crosswalks on the downtown intersections of Copenhagen at First and Second Street with a rainbow pattern for June in recognition of Pride Month. According to the staff report, The Rainbow House Inc. would provide all the funding to install the banners and cover all costs relating to the crosswalk installation and its removal.

The Cavallis decided to put the proposal forward after the Solvang City Council recognized June as Pride Month and approved the second annual Santa Ynez Valley Pride parade—with the first happening just last year

“We thought it was a no-brainer. We brought our kids, our 11-year-old and 6-year old, because we thought it would be a good experience for them to see how the council governs,” Cavalli said. “And it was anything but that. … We literally just showed up with the application and proposal, and we just didn’t at all expect to hear and witness what was said.” 

The City Council rejected the proposal 3-2 (with Councilmembers Claudia Orona and Elizabeth Orona dissenting) at its Feb. 27 meeting saying that the banners don’t follow city policies. During the discussion, some residents insisted that Pride banners don’t match Solvang’s Danish roots or the city’s brand, but advocates for the proposal said otherwise. 

Now, The Rainbow House Inc. plans to bring its proposal to Los Olivos, Los Alamos, Buellton, and Santa Ynez after Solvang denied the organization’s reapplication, which will not be able to go back before the dais, Cavalli said.

“Creating awareness and a place to be, that’s all it is. It isn’t this activism; it isn’t this political stance we’re trying to do,” Cavalli said. “The mission is so that people feel seen and feel welcome and know who they are is OK.”

The rejection

While rainbow crosswalks are present in other cities during Pride month—such as Manhattan Beach, West Hollywood, Davis, and Long Beach among others—Solvang Mayor Mark Infanti said the council rejected the proposal’s sidewalk element because of safety concerns for horses. 

Horse-drawn trolleys take people through Solvang, he said, and residents worried about them getting spooked with the different colors. 

“Horses only see in grays—they don’t see in color, and red might look like a hole and they won’t walk on it,” Infanti said.

He added that the City Council rejected the banner proposal because it didn’t follow the city’s Banner Guidelines Policy—which states that all 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. 

“It was not ideological, it was based on policies,” Infanti said of the council’s decision. “We don’t want to promote one particular ideology; what we want in this city is a community that is welcoming to everybody, and that requires some limits on what some groups can do.” 

The city proclaiming June as Pride Month is not considered a sponsorship but a recognition, he said. 

“I know we had the gay Pride parade and a couple of ceremonies and that was wonderful, but they didn’t ask for light pole flags, only a banner over the highway and they got that last year,” Infanti said. 

Cavalli and Infanti spoke over the phone following the February meeting. 

“My comment to him is that I have no problem with gay people, some of my best friends are gay. We’ve been to their house, this is a very open community,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with any of that. What I have a problem with is the policy. I’m not sure if Mr. Cavalli agrees with the policy. Should we change the policy? That’s for another time.” 

Danish roots 

During public comment on Feb. 27, some residents argued that Pride flags veered away from the city’s Danish theme.

“Banners, sidewalk changes, events, and advertising should promote our small Danish village and be done in ways that promote a welcome, all-included atmosphere,” resident Allison Hill wrote in a public comment letter. “Actions taken to promote political activism with disregard for all citizens and visitors, our children, and our community, do not fit in with the city of Solvang’s guiding [principles].”

However, Denmark has a deep history of being progressive about LGBTQ-plus rights, said Alyce Barrick, the vice president of Santa Ynez Valley (SYV) Pride. 

“Denmark is one of the more progressive countries in Europe; they’re leading the way in LGBTQ-plus rights. They’re leading the way in same-sex marriages,” Barrick said. “So for Solvang to say that they need to uphold their Danish values when they [Denmark] are leaders, shouldn’t we be catching up to the rest of the world?” 

Denmark decriminalized homosexuality in 1933. It was the first country in the world to grant same-sex unions with its Registered Partnerships Act of 1989, according to the Royal Danish Library. By 1996, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (along with race, religion, age, disability, or national, social, and ethnic origin) was prohibited by law in the workplace.

In 2014, Denmark became the first country in the world to allow a legal change of gender, and in 2017, the country was the first to no longer define being transgender as a mental illness—putting it ahead of the World Health Organization.

SYV Pride hosts the Pride parade and festival in Solvang along with other events promoting the LGBTQ-plus community. Barrick said the organization supports The Rainbow House Inc. and was disappointed in the City Council’s decision. 

In response, SYV Pride met with Copenhagen Pride, and the organization said it will ask the mayor of Copenhagen to co-author a letter to the mayor of Solvang to educate the city officials about Danish LGBTQ-plus rights, Barrick said. Copenhagen Pride couldn’t be reached before the Sun’s deadline.

“We just really want the community to know that it’s about small victories and ensuring that that the community and that our youth know that we’re here, and we’re not going to give up,” Barrick said. “We may not be successful at all of our endeavors, but we’re not going to leave.”

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

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