As one father took to the microphone, at the May 3 San Lorenzo Valley Unified School District board meeting, to voice his dismay over the District’s plan to fly Pride Flags from its flag poles in support of the LGBTQ+ community the following week, the majority of people in the audience stood up, silently joining his protest.
While the proclamation for displaying the rainbow flag explained the initiative is part of “providing excellent educational opportunities for all students, without regard to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, income, nationality or disability,” P.J. Davis argued it’s wrong to fly the Pride Flag at public facilities.
“The most serious objection to the display of a rainbow flag over public schools is the way in which doing so violates the religious conscience of some amongst your students, not to mention employees,” he said, noting the rainbow design was the brainchild of artist Gilbert Baker, who once dressed in pink body paint and an American flag loincloth to lampoon a fundamentalist Christian convention. “Must our kids submit themselves to the creation of such a disrespectful man, just to access their public-school campus?”
Activism against sexuality-based movements are rare these days in the Greater Bay Area, and even social conservatives in Santa Cruz County who aren’t in support tend to hold their tongues.
But Davis hasn’t been afraid to argue against the District’s efforts to boost equality via the multi-colored flag. He also appeared in front of the board, last year, to fight—unsuccessfully—against having the Pride Flag on SLVUSD grounds.
On April 30, he fired off an email to the administration.
“I’m writing based on my understanding of your intent to again authorize display of the ‘Rainbow Flag’ over SLV public school campuses,” he said. “For two years running I’ve expressed my opposition to your action based on the inappropriate nature of such a display.”
Superintendent Chris Schiermeyer wrote back May 3, politely letting Davis know that they’d heard his concerns but that they were moving forward with the flag-flying.
“The Board is fully aware of your thoughts and your right to come to the Board Meeting and express those thoughts during Community Participation,” he said. “You have the right to your thoughts, beliefs and parental decisions and the Board has a right to approve Resolutions they feel best represent our educational community.”
At the meeting that evening, perhaps knowing what was coming, one student carried a miniature Pride Flag while speaking on another topic.
Later, Davis spoke in Biblical terms.
“Are my kids, two of whom are here tonight, required to submit themselves and their religious convictions to a ‘gay nation’ when they walk on campus?” he asked, referring to a Baker quote where he explains the inspiration behind his creation. “Baker spoke of the flag he designed as a symbol for a new revolution, a tribal, individualistic and collective vision. Would you force our children’s submission to the sexual revolution…in order to be educated? If your answer is yes, then shame on you…I’m tired of being ignored by you. I pray that you will choose not to display the flag that should not be raised over a public-school campus. You will answer for your decisions one day, not to me, but to the one true judge.”
These remarks elicited applause.
In his comments, Brandon Johnson, one of the pastors at Santa Cruz’s the Gathering church, took a less fire-and-brimstone tack. The Mount Hermon resident said that, overall, he’s pleased with the job educators have done instructing his daughter.
“I’m not here to beat up anybody,” he said. “I’m here to love everybody.”
Nevertheless, he said he feels flying the Pride Flag at a public school is inappropriate. He said, to him, it dishonors the meaning behind the American Flag, and his dad’s participation in the Vietnam War.
At least 10 people stood as part of the anti-Rainbow Flag protest.
After the board approved the proclamation unanimously, one female student left in tears.
In an interview, Johnson said he was disappointed there hadn’t been more of a discussion about the LBGTQ+ symbol.
“We don’t all agree with this worldview,” he said, sharing that he sees the Pride Flag as divisive. “The California flag is a symbol that unites us.”
But, he added that even though he thinks the Christian Flag has positive overtones (“The gospel is that Jesus died for everybody,” he stated), he doesn’t think it would be right to fly that flag on a public school campus, either.
Music Boosters Co-President Melissa Harrell caught up with Johnson, too. She told the Press Banner they had a cordial conversation, even though they hold different views.
“What he shared with me was that his issue was about having it on the flag pole,” she said, adding she views the Pride Flag as a way to support at-risk youth in the face of America’s culture wars that have often centered around such topics. “There have been over 400 bills proposed, nationwide, limiting the rights of LGBTQ people.”
She said she hopes the SLVUSD Pride Flag protest will inspire others to speak up about how important inclusivity is to them.
“I think right now is a really vulnerable time to be an LGBTQ youth,” she said. “I’m glad the board voted as they did.”