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July 26, 2021
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Ceremonial flags are coming to city hall

By: Cassandra May Albaugh
July 2, 2021
Possible Ceremonial Flags for Rohnert Park (alternative)

Mayor Gerard Giudice issued a proclamation declaring June as Pride Month in Rohnert Park at the June 8 council meeting. Like other cities are doing, he wanted to fly the Pride Flag during this month. City Manager Darrin Jenkins informed him that would require a change to the city’s flag policy. Supported by Vice Mayor Jackie Elward, the potential change was put on the agenda for the June 22 meeting.

At that meeting, the council discussed whether to change the city’s flag policy by adding a category of authorized flags called “Ceremonial Flags.” The city manager and city attorney provided advice as to concerns about flying flags other than those currently authorized. Jenkins said it was a “slippery slope” so any revised policy should clearly outline a process for requesting the flying of a ceremonial flag and input as to what flags should be initially authorized. The council decided to go forward with a revised flag policy and directed the staff to bring the proposed policy back to the council in July for approval. They indicated that initially they wanted three flags to be allowed. They were the POW/MIA, Juneteenth and Pride Flags. Let’s look at the history of those flags.

The POW/MIA Flag dates from 1971. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, Mrs. Michael Hoff originated the idea “for a national flag to remind every American of the U.S. servicemembers whose fates were never accounted for during the war.” The flag’s “black and white image of a gaunt silhouette, a strand of barbed wire and an ominous watchtower was designed by Newt Heisley, a former World War II pilot.” When the Vietnam War ended, there were more than 2,500 servicemembers listed by the Department of Defense as either a Prisoner of War (POW) or Missing in Action (MIA). 

The first National POW/MIA Recognition Day was proclaimed by Congress and the President in 1979. In 1982 this flag became the only flag other than the Stars and Stripes to fly over the White House in Washington, D.C. It was designated by Congress on August 10, 1990, as “The symbol of our Nation’s concern and commitment to resolving as fully as possible the fates of Americans still prisoner, missing and unaccounted for in Southeast Asia.” The flag is flown by various government agencies and on every military installation on National POW/MIA Recognition Day and other national observances such as Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, and Veterans Day.

The Juneteenth Flag is “a symbolic representation of the end of slavery in the United States” according to various articles found on the internet. That occurred on June 19, 1865, when Union Army Major General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, a national holiday. However, flag raising ceremonies have been conducted for over two decades as African Americans celebrate their freedom. The flag was the brainchild of Ben Haith in 1997. Haith was the founder of the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation (NJCF). It was revised in 2000 and in 2007 the date “June 19, 1865” was added to the flag. The red, white, and blue represents the American Flag as a “reminder that slaves and their descendants were and are Americans.”  The Star not only represents the “Lone Star State” of Texas but also of all 50 states and the freedom of African Americans from slavery. According to Haith, the flag elements symbolize “the continuous commitment of people in the United States to do better – and to live up to the American ideal of liberty and justice for all.”

The Pride Rainbow Flag has become an enduring symbol of pride and support for the LGBTQ+ community. Dating back to 1978, this iconic flag is the most traditional pride flag flown all over the world including Sonoma County especially during the month of June. Harvey Milk asked designer Gilbert Baker to create a new, positive symbol that the entire LGBTQIA+ community could embrace. According to Baker, the rainbow concept “came from the earliest recorded history as a symbol of hope.” It is found in the “Book of Genesis” and in Chinese, Egyptian and Native American history. 

First flown in San Francisco’s 1978 “Gay Freedom Day” parade, it is now “flown at Pride events around the country, and the rainbow flag has become a ubiquitous symbol of Pride today.” There are multiple pride flags today such as the Lesbian, Gay, or Transgender flags. Proposals to update the rainbow flag have been made as reflected by a redesign in 2017 called the Philadelphia Flag which added black and brown stripes to represent people of color. Another is the Progress Pride flag proposed in 2018 that also added an element representing the Transgender community. But the Rainbow Flag remains the most visible representation of Pride worldwide.