In a spirited discussion at their May 24 meeting, the Cypress City Council tepidly approved a motion to proclaim May as Asian Pacific Heritage Month and refused to seriously consider a motion to declare June as LGBTQ Appreciation month.
Both items were brought forward by Council member Frances Marquez, Ph.D., who said her goal was to bring attention to vulnerable communities. As it turned out, both items generated a lively debate among Council members.
Before winning a council seat, Marquez said she was a former staffer in Washington, D.C. for several members of Congress, including Rep. Michael Honda. There, she worked on projects to show support for such communities and wanted to demonstrate “local” support for the Asian American and Pacific Islander community and the LGBTQ community, Marquez said.
“I wanted to ensure that that support from the national level is here at the local level,” she said. “All politics is local,” said Marquez, “and this is about public policy…ensuring that people are recognized and that they feel welcome to walk through the doors of City Hall and ask for the services they need.”
Marquez had placed the items on the agenda separately, with a proclamation declaring the month of May as Asian Pacific Heritage Month in the city of Cypress. Moreover, her proclamation also suggested the city recognize the achievements of the API community in order to ensure them access and success going forward.
According to the resolution, “celebrating?Asian/Pacific?American Heritage Month provides the City of Cypress with an opportunity to recognize the achievements, contributions, and history of, and to understand the challenges faced by,?Asian?Americans and Pacific Islanders.”
The API community makes up approximately 30 percent of the city, she suggested.
Mayor Jon Peat said the city just a month ago recognized the achievements of the API community in declaring their opposition to the escalation in hate crimes against the API community and “they know they are welcome” in Cypress.
“While I am fully supportive of recognizing the accomplishments of the API community,” he said, the Mayor moved to strike two objectionable clauses from the pending resolution.
Peat said the hate crimes against the API community had already been recognized and that “I don’t believe it is (city council) our responsibility to ensure access and success to any particular group,” he protested.
Peat said all citizens should have the same access. The mayor’s motion was followed by a long, pregnant pause, with Mayor Pro-tem Stacy Berry finally breaking the silence with a request for Peat to explain his motion.
He did but there was still no second and Marquez respectfully asked that the language stay in the resolution.
“Mr. Mayor, with all due respect,” she said, “I added this in because it’s been something that is so critical to the community throughout the country. I think it is important to leave it in.”
After another pause, Peat rescinded his motion to strike the items from the proclamation.
Berry then seconded the Marquez motion to pass the resolution but did so with caution saying it could “beg a question about how we (Council) pick and choose” within the city. “We need to be very thoughtful about items like this,” she warned.
Council member Anne Hertz made a technical date change and the motion passed 3-1-1, with Marquez, Berry and Hertz voting for it, Peat voting against and Council member Paulo Morales abstaining from a vote.
When it came to Marquez’ LGBTQ proclamation, however, it was a different story.
Her second proclamation would have proclaimed June as “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) “Pride Month” throughout the City of Cypress.
Moreover, her resolution noted “the rainbow flag is widely recognized as a symbol of pride, inclusion, and support for social movements that advocate for LGBTQ people in society” and her resolution sought flying the PRIDE flag on the city’s flagpole as a show of support.
Marquez said she grew up in Cypress and remembers the internal scars of being bullied as a child. “This is about public policy and the well-being of families,” she said. “I don’t want other children to have those experiences. I’m 53-years-old and you never forget it.”
Marquez said decisions are made every day on behalf of diverse communities at the local level. “We have a responsibility to each other to help one another ensure a sense of community,” she said, advocating for greater local involvement in both communities (API and LGBTQ).
Even before the debate was underway, city attorney Fred Galante warned about flying the PRIDE flag in the city. “There is a legal issue that I want you to be aware of,” said Galante.
“Once you allow a specific group’s flag to be flown,” said Galante, “there is an argument that could be made that you’re opening up what is called a ‘public forum’ for the display of ideas and messages.” Translation, once you start, you cannot refuse any group.
“I don’t see any particular issue the raising of the flag (per se),” the city attorney said, “I just want you to be aware that that could create an opening for some First Amendment issues” down the road.
His suggestions also made the Council aware they do not have a flag flying policy.
“I am kind of confused,” offered Council member Paulo Morales. “Let me just state that by passing this resolution, I don’t know how that would ‘ensure that the LGBTQ community is welcome.’ “They are already welcome,” said Morales.
“Our nation’s flag or state flag represents all people and all cultures, ensures all ethnicities that they are already welcome,” said Morales, who suggested flying the Pride flag would heighten the divisiveness that already exists across the nation.
Morales said “flying the Pride is not controversial in the sense that they’re going to be problematic but it opens us up to groups like Black Lives Matter.” And, he said, “what happens when neo-Nazi’s come and they want their flag displayed?”
The city has a history of working with the LGBTQ community, said Morales, but “we need to come up with a policy before we even move forward with displaying any flags.”
“I know you spoke that you brought this forward to promote inclusivity,” said Berry, “but to me, this really does the opposite.”
“Our focus should be that all residents are served equally,” she said, noting that item had generated very vocal opposition from some residents since it had been posted on the agenda.
“We all have different beliefs and causes we feel passionate about,” said Berry, but “our focus should be to ensure that all of our residents are served equally.” “We are diverse and welcoming,” suggested Berry and “we should tackle issues that bring us together, not tear us apart.”
Peat said one of the reasons “that our city is so good” is because the City Council of this City and councils before us have kept their focus on the things that are important to running the city, things that bring us together as a community.”
“Prior city councils have avoided coming controversial issues at the state and federal level that would bring division and disharmony to our city,” said Peat, proving an example of avoiding engagement in controversial “sanctuary city policies” when it swept the nation.
He objected to “being asked to bring a divisive issue into our community which was nothing to do with running our city effectively.”
Council member Anne Hertz told Marquez “I know you brought both these proclamations forward with the very best of intentions and passion for the groups that they represent,” yet Hertz suggested the city manager and city attorney “work together to draft a flag policy so that we have some structure moving forward.”
After providing some guidance, the Council directed the pair to draft a flag policy for future Council consideration.
Marquez then reoffered a motion to approve her proclamation of June as LGBTQ month, but there was only silence as the motion died for the lack of a second.
“I never intended to divide this community,” said Marquez, telling the Council that her only goal was to “bring attention to a vulnerable community.”