By Ken Stone,Times of San Diego, a member of the San Diego Online News Association
Photo: La Mesa Councilwoman Laura Lothian, seeing no chance of council OK, made no motion for her policy proposal. Image via Facebook
May 25, 2023 (La Mesa) - La Mesa Councilwoman Laura Lothian ran a proposal up the flagpole but saw it shot down in a hail of public scorn and derision.
Some 40 in-person and online speakers at Tuesday’s council meeting blasted her idea of barring City Hall from flying any banners other than the American, California and city flags.
Critics all took that to mean prohibiting the rainbow gay-pride flag.
Representatives of the regional Anti-Defamation League, state Sen. Steve Padilla and Assemblywoman Akilah Weber (a former La Mesa councilwoman) spoke against the policy. So did teenagers, longtime La Mesa residents, several ministers and Brianna Coston, a La Mesa-Spring Valley school board member.
Christynne Wood, the transgender woman whose use of the Santee YMCA locker room sparked right-wing protests, praised La Mesa as not just the “Jewel of the Hills” but the Jewel of East County.
“I know that you will defeat this ugliness,” Wood said. “To prove that we live in a time of divine miracles, the Padres just won their second game in a row.”
Lothian, the lone council Republican, last week posted a minute-long video on Instagram calling on fellow members to “put aside their political activism” and “not use the people’s City Hall as a billboard for their political views.”
She didn’t specify the pride banner, which La Mesa has flown during June — Pride Month — since 2020. But that’s what all but one speaker thought was under attack.
After nearly two hours of sometimes tear-filled testimony on behalf of the LGBTQ community, Lothian conceded that any motion she’d make would die for lack of a second.
So she didn’t bother.
“I only did this because I hear from so many people that say to me: Can we give [political flags] a break?” she said of the policy proposal meant to avoid alienating residents.
“Police can’t fly the Thin Blue Line flag,” Lothian said on Instagram. “You can’t have rules for some people and not for others. That is the definition of hypocrisy and discrimination.”
When someone in the audience noted a lack of her supporters, Lothian said they didn’t show up because they didn’t want to be called Nazis or bigots.
“They are oppressed and stressed,” the local real-estate agent said of like-minded residents. “They cannot speak because of the attacks they get.”
Only one Lothian backer took the lectern on a night when the city issued a proclamation marking June as LGBTQ+ Pride Month.
Mary Davis said La Mesa’s flagpole “should be neutral on social issues. La Mesa is already a diverse, loving, accepting city. You don’t need to prove that with a flag.”
Allowing the pride flag sets the stage for “the monopoly of the month,” which Davis called a slippery slope.
She turned towards the audience to unfurl what she called the National Sanctity of Life Flag. The crowd groaned.
“When I asked to fly this flag [at City Hall], I was roundly ignored,” Davis said. So instead, she “stood vigil for two hours, alone” outside City Hall.
She suggested erecting a “dedicated celebratory flagpole in The [downtown] Village or on the grass near El Torito” on Baltimore Drive just off Interstate 8.
“People could rotate” their flags, she said. “That is my solution.”
One speaker earlier, local Unitarian Universalist minister Dr. Melissa James recalled moving with her wife to La Mesa seven years ago and holding a birthday party for their 4-year-old daughter last year at a La Mesa park.
While packing up, she noticed the sidewalk covered with homophobic slurs written in chalk.
“Neutrality?” she asked Lothian. “My family can’t afford the luxury of your neutrality.”
Former Marine Janessa Goldbeck — a candidate for the District 4 county supervisor seat vacated by Nathan Fletcher — spoke as well.
She recalled serving during the military’s Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell regime, a policy that “sent a message that discrimination was tolerated.” She said the Lothian plan would take her back to “those dark days.”
Former sheriff’s candidate Dave Myers spoke and handed Lothian a small pride flag.
A La Mesa native named Jennifer got personal.
“Get with the times, Laura,” said Jennifer, who identified as queer. “You are a beautiful woman — and you would be lucky to experience the love of another woman. But instead you choose to spread hate. Do you really think the American flag isn’t political?”
After public comments, Lothian addressed the chamber with some anger.
“I knew this would be a marathon of people expressing their antipathy to my council agenda item. I knew it would be very emotional,” she said. “There is nothing that isn’t politicized right now. You can’t go to a grocery store, a sporting event, a school — they’re rewriting books.”
But she said “thousands of La Mesans and millions of Americans” were “exhausted by being pummeled by political messaging. It doesn’t stop. In this room, you all talk about feeling attacked and marginalized. Imagine me and people like me.”
Lothian said she was half-Guatemalan and a female but now was being called a Nazi, a bigot and a white supremacist.
She said the historic Betsy Ross flag was being labeled a “hate flag.”
“So right now, [in] this country, the people who have the biggest megaphones — they’re the ones controlling the media, the government, the schools,” Lothian declared, saying that name-calling by her opponents was “a low-blow way to fight.”
She added: “I only brought this up because I just want people to come to City Hall and … do their business, get their permits, get their licenses, and not [see] a politicized message. Not everybody on earth feels exactly the same way you do.”
Eliciting groans, Lothian said: “My closest friends are a lesbian couple I go to Mexico with. This was never, ever about you. It was about people [who] should be able to come to City Hall … and (not see) another message.”
With the issue dead, Councilman Jack Shu expressed gratitude for the speakers but also the woman sitting next to him.
“If anything else,” he said to cheers and applause, “thank you, Councilwoman Lothian, because you’ve made my night by me being able to see one side of La Mesa that I want to see more often.”