Santa Rosa raises rainbow flag in support of LGBTQ community

When Pride month kicks off, one rainbow flag in the North Bay will mark a first.

Saturday morning before the Santa Rosa parade, the flag was raised in a prominent spot: a flagpole in front of police headquarters and a fire station. 

"It means a lot to me as a queer employee of the department," rookie Ofc. Kelsea Nelson told KTVU, as she patrolled downtown Santa Rosa. 

She was gratified to spot a rainbow flag waving at City Hall.

At 4th St. and Mendocino Ave., festival preparations are evident, with a stage and tents assembled.

"This whole thing city has decided to do for Pride, if it makes just one person more comfortable being who they are, it's totally worth it," said Nelson. 

This year, Pride goes further with the new flag flying at public safety agencies. 

"It represents the diversity in the LGBTQ community, that everyone comes from different backgrounds," said Sgt. Chris Mahurin, unfurling a 4 by 6 foot flag with six vibrant stripes of color. 

"The flag shows the support, not just by words but actions as well," said Mahurin, who was Santa  Rosa's only openly gay male officer when he was hired 13 years ago.

Newly married, Mahurin says there are still only a handful of sworn and civilian employees who identify as LGBTQ.

On SRPD's Facebook page, they recently posed for a portrait titled "Serving with Pride," happy to be working in a department that supports them.  

Mahurin believes the flag, flying the month of June, will be affirming for staff, potential recruits, allies and the public passing by.

"In the past there have been a lot of people in the LGBTQ community who have been leery of police contact, and may be afraid to report a crime, so if they see that flag flying outside our building, it says we want them to come here."   

Last year, the theme was "Together We Rise," saluting first responders for their heroism during the devastating Sonoma County firestorms.   

It was also the first year the festival moved to the heart of Santa Rosa from the Russian River community of Guerneville, where it had been for several years. 

The new, more central location brought thousands of people to Old Courthouse Square. 

"Raising the flag is big, we're happy, and I think it's a great thing," said Christopher Kren-Mora, a member of the Sonoma County Pride Executive Board, the organizer of the festivities. 

Kren-Mora welcomes the deepening support from law enforcement, noting some cities shun cops.  

"Toronto Pride didn't want any police in their Pride, didn't want any law enforcement involved at all," said Kren-Mora, "and I don't understand that, we're all inclusive here."

Officer Nelson will be marching in her first Pride Parade, along with other members of her department and Police Chief Hank Schreeder. 

"I guess I didn't realize how unique it still is to be comfortable and open," said Nelson, who has been out since the age of 18.

She has been surprised by the emotional response to the flag finding a new home. 

"I think the strongest reaction I've had is when I tell people from the community, and they're moved to tears by it."

The flag-raising ceremony was live-streamed on Santa Rosa Police Department's Facebook page Saturday morning.

The 32nd Annual Sonoma County Pride Parade begins at 11 a.m. along Fourth Street and finishes in Old Courthouse Square, with the festival continuing until 6 pm.  

The theme for 2019 is "Year of Love," and an estimated 5,000 people are expected to attend.