Worried about the precedent it may set, San Mateo Union High School District officials denied a proposal to fly the rainbow flag at school sites in recognition of LGBTQ+ Pride month.
The board, with Trustee Greg Land absent, unanimously approved a ceremonial proclamation supporting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and/or questioning community.
But without a tiebreaking vote, the board deadlocked 2-2 over a proposal to fly the pride flag at school campuses and district headquarters next month and the discussion dissolved — to the chagrin of those in support.
“I’m in favor of it to reflect the diversity of our community,” Trustee Ligia Andrade-Zuniga said.
Trustee Linda Lees Dwyer shared a similar sentiment, and said the flag would be a public statement of the district’s values.
“We need to think where we are now, and where we are trying to go,” she said.
Board Vice President Peter Hanley contended otherwise though, fearful that the district flying anything other than the U.S. or California flag could present future policy challenges.
“I don’t want to go down that road of having different flags all the time. I just think it makes our lives too complicated. Once you say yes to one group, it’s hard to say no to other groups,” Hanley said.
Board President Bob Griffin agreed.
“If we give one group recognition by flying a flag we have to give every group recognition by flying a flag or we will be hard-pressed to defend our position,” he said. “And I don’t see it playing out well.”
Hanley and Griffin ultimately voted against raising the pride flag, and instead favored approving the proclamation because that is the mechanism the board usually uses for support or recognition.
Lees Dwyer questioned the value of approving the proclamation if the board wasn’t willing to take a more visible stance on the issue.
“I don’t want to say no to them because we are afraid someone else will ask. I really don’t go with the logic. And the proclamation I think is kind of hollow if we aren’t willing to fly the flag,” she said.
Andrade-Zuniga concurred, and attempted to persuade her colleagues on the board to be bold in taking action to support the inclusivity and equity policies adopted by the district.
Hanley countered that flying a flag isn’t an accurate fashion of measuring the district’s values.
Meanwhile, Griffin asked whether Andrade-Zuniga would be comfortable flying the Confederate flag at district properties?
“If it meant for someone being racist or disrespectful of any group, I wouldn’t because that wouldn’t reflect our commitment to respecting and protecting the different communities in our district,” she answered.
Griffin later suggested that flying the pride flag might also require the district to allow similar accommodations for the Christian, Las Vegas Raiders, San Francisco 49ers and San Francisco Giants flags.
“The only thing we fly is the flag of the state of California and the flag of the United States,” he said.
To the concerns regarding precedent, Andrade-Zuniga noted it is not uncommon for local municipal governments to fly the pride flags over city halls in June, and that the state Legislature takes similar action at the Capitol.
Observing the opposition among some of her colleagues regarding the issue, Lees Dwyer urged officials to make more public their support for the proclamation.
“Let’s make a banner, or let’s do something with it. Because otherwise, we haven’t done anything but put a piece of paper in our minutes,” she said.
To that, Griffin noted that the board regularly approves proclamations expressing appreciation for teachers, staff and other segments of the school community without any further public action.
In the absence of a tiebreaking vote, the discussion ultimately lost momentum. But before the discussion advanced to the next item on the meeting agenda, Andrade-Zuniga asked a final rhetorical question.
“What are we going to tell our students?” she asked.