Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer and City Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria got into a heated argument during Thursday’s council meeting regarding the city officially flying a LGBT Pride flag.
Soria, along with Council members Miguel Arias and Tyler Maxwell, sponsored a resolution at a special meeting during Thursday’s regularly scheduled meeting that gives the council members authority to request that a specific flag be flown outside of City Hall.
Under city law, the City Manager determined which flags were flown, but the group of council members sought to change that.
Per the new resolution, any city councilmember can bring a ceremonial proclamation before the council requesting that a specific flag is flown. The council does not vote on the matter, giving the councilmembers the ability to fly whatever flag they wish.
However, the resolution prohibits flags that the Council deems to be “inappropriate or offensive in nature or those supporting discrimination, prejudice, or religious movements.”
Councilman Garry Bredefeld and Council President Luis Chavez argued that the council determining what is offensive or not will be problematic, since everyone has different views and opinions.
Dyer agreed with the duo, and was concerned that the resolution explicitly excludes faith based organizations.
“When we start excluding faith based organization, I think we’re not going to have One Fresno,” Dyer said. “We’re going to have a tremendous divide. We’re going to have people really taking issue with it, and I think it’s going to create a problem for all of us on this dais.”
After Dyer’s comments, Soria went after the mayor saying he has issues with the city flying the Pride flag.
“I just want to point out, Mayor, the reason that we’re here is because you had concerns with the fact that we had made a request to raise a Pride flag,” Soria said. “What makes me extremely sad is that you supposedly are saying we want a One Fresno, but as soon as we are trying to raise the Pride flag you make it an issue.”
That drew a strong retort from Dyer, who interrupted Soria and raised his voice.
“That’s absolutely a lie, Council member Soria,” Dyer said. “It has nothing to do with the Pride flag. It has to open it up to organizations that may want to fly a flag like MAGA, that may want to fly a flag like the Proud Boys.”
Soria butted-in, taking issue with Dyer interrupting her, which drew another curt response from Dyer: “Well then don’t misstate who I am.”
Soria continued on saying that the city has flown the Greek, Armenian and Mexican flags, and she wants to see the Pride flag flown because it represents part of the Fresno community.
After Soria finished her thoughts, Dyer responded in a calm manner.
“Well, it went from a country to a cause, and I think that’s the issue. If we wanted to say that you could fly any flag here at City Hall, I’m 100 percent with you,” Dyer said. “But if you start excluding, in resolution, any organization at the onset, I think that’s wrong.”
“And I apologize for getting upset with you, I do. I apologize, but I don’t like to be misstated. And I don’t want to be pitted against any part of this community. I think that’s the danger of what we’re facing here today – pitted against one part of the community today, next week pitted against another part of the community.”
After about an hour of discussion from the council and public comments, City Attorney Doug Sloan clarified that the state and U.S. constitutions prohibit cities from flying religious flags.
Ultimately, the council passed the resolution 5-2, with Bredefeld and Chavez dissenting.
The resolution is subject to Dyer’s veto and, given his comments, could be returned to Council without his signature.