RICHMOND -- The rainbow-colored gay pride flag still flies at City Hall in celebration of Pride Month, city officials say, despite some salty email complaints circulated among the city's roughly 900 employees Thursday.
The controversy simmered Thursday afternoon, hours after Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles asked Mayor Gayle McLaughlin to fly the rainbow flag in recognition of Pride Month, which every June commemorates the Stonewall riots in 1969.
"It was my decision that the flag be flown again for these last remaining days in June," McLaughlin said Friday, noting that City Manager Bill Lindsay authorized the flag to be flown for two days in March while the U.S. Supreme Court heard cases dealing with Prop. 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act.
Nicole Valentino, a community advocate in McLaughlin's office and Beckles' partner, sent out a citywide email at 12:26 p.m. announcing the city would fly the flag to show " ... support of the (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer and Questioning) struggles and movement for recognition and equality."
Valentino also wrote that McLaughlin and Beckles would present the annual Pride Day proclamation at the next council meeting.
In less than 24 hours, three city employees responded to the entire city email list -- which per city rules is only allowed with authorization by Lindsay, his assistant or a department head -- in opposition to the news.
Antoinette Jordan, who works in the city's adult literacy program, wrote at 4:14 p.m., "Waving the gay pride flag in the city of Richmond is inappropriate. Richmond is not 'the Castro.' This is offensive to Richmond's faith-based community. The USA flag is the 'freedom flag.'"
At 4:41 p.m., Jacqueline McBride, an information technology assistant, responded. In the subject line, she wrote, "Looks like another city agrees ... No Offense Intended." In the body of her email was a (Santa Rosa) Press Democrat story reporting that officials in Calistoga took down their pride flag amid outcry and legal concerns.
At 9:07 a.m. Friday, library assistant Linda Cisneros wrote, "I have never seen a flag displayed for Native American Heritage month or Hispanic American Heritage month or Irish American Heritage month. Didn't they struggle too?"
McBride and Cisneros could not be reached. Jordan declined to comment.
Reached Friday, Lindsay said his staff sent out an email warning employees to cease sending out mass emails without approval.
Lindsay said he considered the matter a done deal and would not mete out any punishments. The flag stays, he added.
"I don't see any reason to take it down," Lindsay said. "It's true that no one talked to me about it (Thursday), I just sort of saw it, but I think the same thoughts apply now as when it was approved in March. It's consistent with council policy."
Councilman Nat Bates disagreed.
"The mayor determined to fly the flag, but that is something that should be determined by the (City Council)," Bates said. "Now we have a big stink. We have to be sensitive to all the people in our diverse community."
Beckles on Friday fiercely defended the flag, including on her social media platforms. Richmond police Chief Chris Magnus, former Councilman Jeff Ritterman and county Supervisor John Gioia's chief of staff, Terrance Cheung, were among those who posted their support on Beckles' Facebook page.
"I am the first and only out council member on the council, so I feel it's my responsibility to represent this segment of our community that is STILL being discriminated against," Beckles wrote in an email Friday.
McLaughlin cited Richmond's 2009 adoption of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the city did with language updated to include respect for all "sexual orientation" and "gender identity." The flag shows the city's commitment to human rights at "this historic moment in time," McLaughlin said.
Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726. Follow him at Twitter.com/roberthrogers.