Pictured: Rainbow lights illuminating the Simi Valley Civic Center sign on Monday, June 14, 2021. Photo by RISE Simi Valley.
by Kimberly Rivers
Community members in Simi Valley were surprised Monday evening, June 14, when the Simi Valley Civic Center was lit up with rainbow lights in celebration of Pride Month. The move followed a June 7 Simi Valley City Council meeting where a request to discuss flying a Pride flag at city hall was met with silence.
The rainbow lights replaced blue lights that had been placed in support of the law enforcement community.
On June 7, colleagues of Simi Valley City Councilmember Ruth Luevanos stayed silent after her motion to add a future agenda item to consider raising a Pride flag at Simi Valley City Hall. The council had just approved a proclamation in support of Pride Month, but advocates say that was not enough. Luevanos’ motion died for want of a second.
The lack of a second “makes community members feel unheard and unseen. It was blatant silence. It wasn’t just not giving someone a second [ to a motion]; the council didn’t even want to put it on the agenda to be discussed,” said Cassandra Douglas, director of advocacy with RISE Simi Valley.
Simi Valley Mayor Keith Mashburn said the reason Luevanos’ motion did not get seconded was because “usually something like that would come up” in advance and “the city manager would give some direction. I think that’s why we all looked at each other. We didn’t know what the rules are,” specifically about adding flags to the pole.
When pressed about the motion for the item to be put on a future agenda for discussion and consideration, when those rules could be explained and considered, Mashburn said the timing of the council’s meetings meant the move was “not going to do any good,” adding “but that’s typical of her [Luevanos], kind of just throwing something out there, without discussing it first with the city manager or council members.” He then clarified that only one other council member could be consulted, noting that to talk with more than one would be a violation of the Brown Act. “We are very careful about that.”
“I’m tired of empty gestures. I want action,” said Luevanos on Tuesday, June 15, speaking with the Ventura County Reporter. “You cannot pass a resolution saying you care about LGBTQ+ and not put action behind it. You cannot say you support Juneteenth and do nothing . . . We are policy makers, that’s our job . . . I want to make policy to actuate change. Let’s fly a Pride flag.”
After that June 7 meeting, Mashburn said he contacted Simi Valley City Manager Brian Gabler. “He confirmed what I believed to be accurate . . . we just don’t put up other flags.” He explained the city has previously declined to put up a U.S. Marine flag and others. Mashburn said he asked Gabler, “are there any alternatives” to the flag. “He came up with the rainbow lights. I said that’s perfect.”
Luevanos said she asked the city manager after the council meeting, “if we can’t do the flag, can we do lights? We’ve done blue lights for the police, can we do rainbow lights?” She said the initial response was that staff didn’t know if it was possible to track down a rainbow filter for the lights. She didn’t hear anything else until she started getting texts from residents Tuesday morning thanking her for the rainbow lights.
Gabler confirmed that “several” council members contacted him about rainbow lights and he looked into it to see if it was possible. The lights were tested on Monday night and will be turned back on Wednesday, June 16 for a week. He also confirmed the city has an administrative policy that the only flags flown on the city’s flag pole are the three government flags – U.S, California and Simi Valley. “But if the council wanted to change that they certainly could.”
“Even though we got letters and basically hate mail, we are the furthest thing from homophobic,” said Mashburn, adding that kind of response “happens sometimes when people don’t get their way.” He said the council felt “somewhat blindsided” by Luevanos’ motion as they had “already done a proclamation. We are very supportive of the gay community.” He pointed at a previous gay pride event (he believed it took place in 2000) that the city endorsed. “We have a history of being pro-gay pride.”
“I know this is politically about hurting me. But it’s hurting the people we represent. It’s not hurting me,” said Luevanos about the council not wanting to move her motion forward. “I’m going to continue to remind them every time we are on the dais about their responsibility, the oath they swore — to protect, represent and advocate for the people. That includes everybody.”
Douglas said the lights make a difference and pointed to the fact that the previously displayed blue lights in solidarity with law enforcement was about supporting a particular job. “This is not a job, it’s our life. Oftentimes our lives are in danger, especially in a conservative town. We have to hide and not be ourselves. We fear ridicule.”
As for why she made the motion, and why the rainbow lights are important, Luevanos said, “It’s showing the LGBTQ community that we see them. That we hear them. That we acknowledge their humanity as everyone deserves to be acknowledged and we are not imposing anyone’s beliefs on anyone else.”
What is Pride Month?
According to the national advocacy organization GLAAD (formerly the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), most Pride events are in June and meant to recognize the Stonewall Rebellion in New York City. Prior to that it was common for LGBTQIA+ bars to be raided by police. But on June 28, 1969, when police came to raid the Stonewall Inn, those inside fought back, and the violence that night sparked national activism, bringing visibility and recognition to the struggle for equality for the LGBTQIA+ community.
There are Pride events at different times of the year, but typically they occur during the last week of June.
The Pride Flag
The multi-colored or rainbow flag has been used by the gay community since the 1970s and represents the diversity of those who identify as part of that demographic. For the first time this year, on June 11, a Pride flag was run up the flagpole at the Ventura County Government Center, and all cities except for Simi Valley are flying or plan to fly the Pride flag at their city halls.