Posted on January 2, 2024

California Town Proposes Ban on Pride, Black and Women’s History Celebrations

Abene Clayton, The Guardian, December 22, 2023

The southern California city of Huntington Beach, a bastion of conservative voters, has made the move to block diverse monthlong celebrations of Black history, women’s history and Pride, in favor of observing the revolutionary and civil wars, California’s history and America’s independence.

An agenda item introduced on 19 December forbids any programming that pertains to previously established honorary celebrations for women, people of color and LGBTQ+ groups from taking place on city-owned property, including libraries, or of being featured in city communications such as social media posts, according to Natalie Moser, a city council member who voted against the action.

This means that monthly programming meant to acknowledge and teach the history of historically marginalized groups such as Black Americans and LGBTQ+ people will be replaced by “content” about local railroad and surfing history and a monthlong tribute to the discovery of oil in Huntington Beach called Black Gold Jubilee, according to the agenda item’s language. It’s still possible that the city can establish a day of observation for marginalized groups, Moser adds.

“I was really disappointed to see it on the agenda but wasn’t surprised given the past year,” said Moser, who is from Huntington Beach. “I want Huntington Beach to be seen as a welcoming and inclusive community. Instead, we are thrust into this war and I think that this council majority is trying to make a name for itself as a model or symbol of the extreme-right side of that war.”

This is the latest action in a series of local actions that mirror national culture wars over the past year, since four conservative council members were elected on anti-housing development platforms. In the year since their elections, mayor Gracey Van Der Mark, mayor pro tem Pat Burns and councilmembers Casey McKeon and Tony Strickland have voted to disallow Pride flags from being flown on city property, declared itself a “no mask and no vaccine mandate” city and created a review board for children’s library books.

“This traces back to a larger systemic apathy for what our libraries provide and support of the new culture wars, it’s just continuing down that path,” said Dan Kalmick, another Huntington Beach city council member who voted against the agenda item. “This is just an ignorant attempt to try to make the utopia that they accuse everyone else of trying to create. This is all a hand-wave to distract from the fact that they’re breaking the city.” Huntington Beach is a majority white community of nearly 200,000 in Orange county.

While the most recent moves by the conservative city council majority have grabbed local and regional headlines, they did not begin with the November 2022 elections. The city and county have grappled with decades of racial tensions and extremist demonstrations and actions including a stop the steal rally in 2020, a white lives matter rally in 2021, and the distribution of Ku Klux Klan propaganda that same year. Similar materials were found in Newport Beach, just 5 miles south.

But Moser and Kalmick both argue that those on the far-right fringe do not represent the majority of Huntington Beach residents, several of whom voiced their disapproval of the agenda item via emails sent to council members.

“I am deeply disappointed in many of your recent decisions that have little to do with the real problems facing Huntington Beach,” one resident wrote to the city council’s email address. “Enough with the attempts at cheap headlines already! It would help if you were working to reduce crime, address the homeless problem, pave our streets, and work on real issues that the people of HB care about.”

“This proposal is a waste of time, money and resources since the city’s schools, library, and arts programs already honor and provide awareness about the rich historic heritage of the US, State of California, and City of Huntington Beach. We should leave it to educators and professionals to handle these types of programs, not citizen volunteers who have a political agenda,” another resident wrote in opposition to the agenda item. “Shame on you for designating We Love Our Libraries for August after everything you’ve done to weaken and wreak havoc within our library system.”

Van Der Mark, Burns, McKeon and Strickland did not respond to the Guardian’s request for comment and clarification by the time of publication.