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Huntington Beach's First Unofficial Pride Is A Party And A Protest

A crowd of people march on the pier with their hands in the air with Pride flags. Many people have rainbow colors on their clothing in some way.
The crowd marches along the pier.
(Caitlin Hernández
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When you think of Pride, an image of a big professional festival may come to mind. But in Huntington Beach, all organizers needed was a small step stool, a portable speaker and a gigantic flag to make it happen.

A crowd marched across the city’s pier on Sunday — wedged between a surfing competition and volleyball matches — for the city’s first annual Pride. The DIY event wasn’t officially sanctioned by the city, but grew out of protests against a decision that effectively banned the Pride flag on city property.

“Huntington Beach has a reputation, everyone knows that,” said Kane Durham, one of the event’s founders. “But we're a very diverse city and we welcome everyone who comes here. This isn’t a city of only one kind of people — there are many people here, including our wonderful queer community.”

A grassroots Pride movement

Durham is part of a group called Huntington Beach Pride at the Pier, a grassroots gathering supported by Orange Coast Huddle and volunteers.

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The group has been going every Sunday to the pier to wave Pride flags. They started when the City Council took up a flag restriction ordinance, which ultimately ended the short-lived tradition of flying the Pride flag on city property, which began in 2021.

Ashley Williamson, a founding member who lived in Huntington Beach for 12 years before moving to Perris, says she’s been driving out each time on Sundays and comes to speak at City Council meetings.

“One of the things that I kept hearing [at the meetings] was, ‘We're not against the Pride flag, it's just not appropriate over government buildings.’ And I just started taking that as a challenge,” Williamson said. “Even if I'm not going to stay here for any longer, I want it to be a safe place for everyone else that I know.”

Originally, the plan was simply to fly a gigantic Pride flag at the pier, one measuring 33 feet by 24 feet to be exact. Durham says OC Huddle gave them funds to buy the yards of fabric, and the University of Irvine gave them space to sew it together. Durham says the idea to turn the day into a yearly Pride event is about giving the local LGBTQ+ community a chance for something positive.

“Pride is a protest, but Pride is a party,” Durham said. “Yes, we have experienced maybe a bit more homophobia, transphobia and bigotry than our peers say in L.A. County have experienced, but we're still just as joyful and liberated.”

Why people came out

A portrait of Miguel Lopez, a man with a medium skin tone who's wearing a green shirt that says "free vaccinated dad hugs" in different Pride flag colors. In the background are people waving Pride flags.
Miguel Lopez at the Huntington Beach Pier on May 21, 2023.
(Caitlin Hernández

Among the crowd were people of all ages and areas. Multiple people drove out to show support.

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Miguel Lopez, a father from Placentia, came out because he says it’s impossible to not see what’s happening around the country and not want to take a stand. He believes men need to take a more active role in creating change.

“I’m gonna be on the side of right with this,” Lopez said, who was wearing a shirt offering free dad hugs. “As a father, I want to make sure that I'm modeling that for my child to make sure that he understands as he’s growing up that it’s about how people want to live their lives.”

A crowd of people, roughly 50 to 100, huddle for a group photo. People are different ages, young and old, with varying skin tones. Most people have pride flags that they're waving in the air.
The crowd huddles for a photo at the Huntington Beach Pier on May 21, 2023.
(Caitlin Hernández

For Kurt Anderson, who grew up in Huntington Beach, he says it was good to see so many people standing up against the City Council. Sunday’s march, he says, is an example of what people need to be doing.

“I went to Huntington High School, and when I was in high school, it wasn't exactly easy coming out,” Anderson said. “And we’re still not done.”

And hailing from San Bernardino was A&A Bin, who came to the event with their coach at High Tide Derby after hearing about the flag issue. They say showing up to something like this is all about changing one person’s mind at a time.

“That is a reason for me to show our flags, our colors, and tell everybody that we're not invisible,” Bin said.

About the flag ban

In 2021, a previous City Council voted unanimously to fly the rainbow flag for six weeks each spring at City Hall, starting on Harvey Milk Day in May through Pride month. The Pride flag also was flown at the city library, a senior center and the Huntington Beach Pier.

But the City Council, which has a new conservative majority, has been shaking things up. The body’s move to restrict flags has largely been viewed as a way to stop the Pride flag from being flown. In the technical sense, the City Council’s ordinance doesn’t explicitly ban the Pride flag — but it doesn’t allow it either.

Councilmember Pat Burns, who introduced the measure, has said the ordinance isn’t about the Pride flag.

“We, the city of Huntington Beach, are one community with many different cultures and people. All are equally valued members of our community, and none are to be treated differently or discriminated against,” Burns wrote.

In Burns’ words, the city “should avoid actions that could easily or mistakenly be perceived as divisive.”

But that explanation hasn’t been well received by those in the LGBTQ+ community. Hours of debate ensued in public comment, and the LGBTQ+ Center OC penned a letter to the council saying that the removal of the Pride flag sends an unwelcoming message.

The Council voted 4-3 in February to implement the ordinance. Here’s what flags are now allowed:

  • The American flag
  • The POW/MIA flag
  • The State of California flag
  • The Huntington Beach City flag
  • The County of Orange flag
  • Any flags for the U.S. military

The ordinance makes note that individuals and businesses can still display other flags in public.

What’s next

A few of the Pride flags being held over the pier's rails by a group of people. The flag is flowing in the wind above the water.
The Pride flag was held over each side of the pier for about 30 minutes each on May 21, 2023.
(Caitlin Hernández

At the close of Sunday’s Pride, participants hoisted the gigantic flag over the railings of the pier — for 30 minutes on each side — so that everyone on the beach and PCH could see it. People took turns holding it up to be part of the moment.

The plan is to have another Pride next year. While dates aren’t out yet, organizers feel it’s important to stay seen and heard with this new council. They also strongly believe in providing a space for LGBTQ+ people to celebrate each other.

“I've had so many people reach out to me from this community who have said, ‘You make me feel safe. Thank you for doing this,’” Durham said. “Our mission was accomplished. We wanted people to know that we’re here, we’re not going anywhere, and we're full of pride in Huntington Beach.”

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