Gavin Newsom’s LGBTQ celebration missed 1990 raising of rainbow flag at California Capitol

Don’t write that history book just yet.

Monday’s raising of the rainbow flag of LGBTQ Pride above California’s Capitol may have sent a message, as Gov. Gavin Newsom said, but it wasn’t the first time that flag flew above that dome, as the governor claimed.

A Vermont political science professor and former legislative employee said Newsom got the history wrong by nearly 30 years, writing on Twitter “we were just #straighterased by the CA gov”.

“The flag was raised on the same flag poll on National Coming Out Day in 1990 because two young gay staffers ... organized our state senators to get it done,” Michael Bosia, an associate professor at Saint Michael’s College near Burlington, Vermont, wrote.

Bosia at the time served on the staff of the late Sen. Milton Marks Jr., D-San Francisco, from 1983 to 1995. Bosia said that he and colleague Kenneth Topper worked with Marks to make the request that led to the raising of the flag.

“This was a community driven initiative,” he said. “The difficult part was making sure that we followed all the rules so we did not do anything wrong.”

The accomplishment was especially meaningful, he said, because public opinion in 1990 was more hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

“There was a lot of uncertainty and anger” at the time, he said.

That was reflected in Oct. 12, 1990 story in The Sacramento Bee about the flag raising. The headline read, “Gay flag raises a flap at state Capitol.”

Gil Ferguson, a Republican assemblyman, told The Bee the raising of the Pride flag was “one of those in-your-face actions by homosexuals and pedophiles.”

The flag went up, then back down again a short while later at the order of then-Gov. George Deukmejian.

“Within hours, the episode was the subject of a syndicated radio talk show (Rush Limbaugh’s), the center of a dispute over whether the Legislature or the governor controls the Capitol flagpole, and a matter of concern to gay rights leaders as far away as Santa Fe, N.M.,” The Bee wrote in 1990.

It was also documented by The Bay Area Reporter, the weekly newspaper that covers the Bay Area’s LGBTQ community. Bosia shared a photo of the newspaper. Its headline read, “Rainbow flag to fly over state Capitol, first time in U.S.”

Newsom’s office released a statement Tuesday acknowledging the previous raising.

This piece of our state’s history deserves to be called out and recognized. News reports from the time tell of a group of activists and legislators who quietly orchestrated the flag to be flown to commemorate National Coming Out Day. It was an act of visibility and defiance,” the governor’s office wrote.

Twenty-nine “years after the LGBT pride flag first flew above the Capitol Dome, there’s no mistaking why it’s there. California is welcoming and inclusive to all – regardless of how you identify and who you love.”

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Andrew Sheeler covers California’s unique political climate for the Sacramento Bee. He has covered crime and politics from Interior Alaska to North Dakota’s oil patch to the rugged coast of southern Oregon. He attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks.