Solvang City Councilmember Robert Clarke | Credit: Courtesy

On Monday, the Solvang City Council will reconsider its earlier rejection of a proposal to fly rainbow banners to celebrate Pride Month this June.

One of the strongest critics of the downtown banners was Councilmember Robert Clarke. Never shy about voicing his opposition, Clarke had called the proposal “political” and divisive and argued that such a lengthy show of solidarity would be not only unfair to other community interests but also unnecessary because LGBTQ residents already enjoy the town’s full support.

At the same time, Clarke has also expressed concern about drag shows hosted by the applicant ― the Rainbow House Inc., a nonprofit resource center on Copenhagen Drive ― and what “grooming” effect the events may have on Solvang’s children. 

In recent text and email exchanges, particularly with like-minded members of the local conservative group Santa Ynez Valley Common Sense, Clarke is even more explicit about his views on the issue. Copies of the emails and text messages were obtained through a public records request and shared with the Santa Barbara Independent. Clarke did not respond to our requests for comment.

Clarke called his colleagues “bozos” for revisiting their previous vote and “bowing to a tiny woke mob.” He vowed to “keep fighting this crap” and suggested Solvang cancel its upcoming Pride parade because of the backlash he has personally received over his comments. He pointed to angry emails and an online posting saying his house ought to be toilet-papered. “The ‘tolerant’ are the most intolerant people I have ever come across,” he wrote in an email.

Clarke sent what he described as the “threats” to the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office, which responded that the messages did not amount to a crime. He also asked that a deputy be stationed inside the council chambers for the full length of future meetings. Clarke said in a separate text message, “These trans folks are pretty unpredictable.” The Sheriff’s Office declined his request.

Clarke repeatedly blamed LGBTQ organizers and their supporters ― whom he referred to in various messages as “alphabet mafia” and “chardonnay antifa” as well as “snowflakes,” “clowns,” and “assholes” ― for stoking division and “spewing” their “woke poison” across the community. “Their campaign will not relent until we all cave to a far left woke agenda,” he said in a group email.

The very concept of Pride was confusing to him, Clarke also stated. “I have never understood what pride and who one sleeps with have anything to do with each other,” he wrote to a supporter. “Pride is being a good husband and father. Pride is a poor child raised by a single mom and [graduating] college,” like he did. “Pride is folks that served and died for their country.”

Two banner options will be presented to the City Council this Monday | Credit: Courtesy

But Clarke, who characterized himself as “libertarian on social issues,” was also frustrated by the fact that last year he had voted in favor of Solvang’s first Pride festival and parade yet was now being criticized for his stance on the banners. “It’s funny that they can’t just be happy with a weekend parade and festival,” he said to a different supporter. “If you don’t turn the entire town over to them for a month then you are a bigot.”

In a text string, Clarke said he believed the social services nonprofit People Helping People and Bethania Lutheran Church, whose representatives have been outspokenly supportive of Solvang’s LGBTQ residents, should have their tax-exempt status revoked. “They are overtly political groups,” he said. In a separate email exchange, Clarke revealed he had helped successfully lobby Santa Ynez Valley Union High School administrators to remove four rainbow crosswalks from the campus.

The records show that in recent weeks Clarke most frequently engaged with three specific members of Santa Ynez Valley Common Sense, which describes itself as a “patriotic” and “God-centered” group that supports conservative political candidates. All three asserted the Pride banners were part of a broader effort to sexualize and groom children to become gay or transgender. “They are being castrated, mutilated, and ruined forever,” said one of the members. “Rainbows and flags seem to be about attracting the children, and I hate it!”

Another member wrote to Clarke about how flags have been used throughout history to define and represent groups of people and their causes: “Swastika flags define nazis, hammer and sickle flags define communists, black flags define anarchists, rainbow flags define gay rights, and so on.”

Clarke promised them that, for every one of his “butt-hurt” critics who spoke at upcoming council meetings, he would donate $10 to Gays Against Groomers, a far-right group “against the sexualization, indoctrination, and medicalization of children under the guise of LGBTQIA+,” according to its website. Records show Clarke has so far donated $100 to the organization.

Last November, Solvang held its first by-district election. Clarke lost his bid to represent District 4 but was subsequently appointed by the City Council to fill the vacant District 1 seat left by then-Councilmember Mark Infanti when Infanti won his race for mayor.

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