“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”
A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens
What a difference a day makes! On Monday, June 3, 2013, the City of Visalia‘s City Council issued it’s second LGBT Pride Month Proclamation. On Tuesday, June 4th, the City of Porterville issued it’s first. The two events could not have been more different.
Both cities provide online applications for proclamations, with instructions on how to turn them into the city. Such requests are routinely handled by cities across the country, and are ways for cities to recognize citizens and groups. Here’s Porterville’s “Request a Proclamation” page.
Visalia’s proclamation resulted in applause and friendly chatter in a standing room only crowd that overflowed into the hallway. This year’s proclamation went mostly unnoticed by the greater community in Visalia. Last year it provoked some media coverage and talk-radio interviews with the Mayor of Visalia, Amy Shuklian. Porterville’s proclamation, in a meeting room at least twice the size of Visalia’s, also with standing room only and overflow into the hall, resulted in boos, catcalls, the arrest of a anti-gay protestor, and at least two calls for the death penalty for homosexuals.
In 2008, the Porterville City Council was the only representative body in the State of California to pass a formal resolution declaring their support for Proposition 8, the ballot initiative that went on to take marriage rights away from gays and lesbians. That proposition is now before the Supreme Court of the United States, after having been ruled unconstitutional by a Federal District Court, and later in Federal Appeals Court. A third appeal to the full Appeals Court panel was denied, and proponents appealed to SCOTUS. That ruling is due this month.
In 2011, local activists discovered on the website operated by the Porterville Community College a document that had been placed there by a Christian club on campus. The post, seen here, was taken from a conservative religious and anti-gay site, and is full of false information about the LGBT community. Once the college administration was advised of the content of the webpage, it was removed from the college’s servers within hours.
When many of us heard that Porterville was preparing to issue a Proclamation recognizing June as LGBT Pride Month, we thought the city had made an important turn. Regretfully, we were very wrong.
After the Mayor read the proclamation, and presented it to Brock Neeley, the community member who had requested it, the room broke out into applause and cheering. For a moment, it seemed like the room was fully behind the Mayor. As the huzzahs died down, however, the catcalls and boos became evident, and heartened by the dying applause, became louder and more strident. Then the other council members decided to make their thoughts on the matter public record.
Each of the four other council members complained about the process that brought the proclamation before the Council. Each made it abundantly clear that they had neither approved of nor signed the document. The Mayor, Virginia Gurrola, was the victim of the council’s wrath about a procedure that has been in place for years. These other councilmen, Pete McCracken, Cameron Hamilton, Brian Ward, and Greg Shelton all complained that this proclamation had been “rammed through” at the “request of a local activist”, without their consent. Suddenly they want more control over proclamations issued by the city. As bad as the other council member’s comments were, the real shock for the LGBT community in Porterville came during the public comments period of the meeting.
Several residents of the city and surrounding areas stepped up to the microphone to condemn the city, the council, the mayor, and the gay community. The first speaker spoke of the right wing’s favorite canard, the slippery slope to beastiality. Another, a regular protester in the area known for his Westboro Baptist Church style signs reading “God Hates Fags”, called for the death penalty for homosexuals, because he thinks “God” says so. That ‘upstanding’ Christian ended up getting arrested for blocking the sidewalk and refusing the lawful order of a police officer when he refused to move to a park across the street from the City Hall to conduct his homophobic public protest. Other speakers repeated statistics long ago proven false, chastised the council, warned of “God’s” wrath for the “evil” of this proclamation, and throughout was the constant theme that is best reflected by that now ubiquitous plea, “think of the children!” At least one other speaker also recommended capital punishment for the gays.
At the end of almost an hour of public comments, where a few supporters of the Mayor and the LGBT community managed to speak, some in outraged voice over what they had heard at the podium, the council closed the forum. As they were about to take a recess, the Mayor spoke, in tears, of her religious beliefs. As a woman who sees herself as a faithful Christian, she was, I believe, rocked to the core over the vitriol and hatred directed at her and the gay community in Porterville. For merely conducting her duty as the office requires, she was pilloried by many of her constituents.
The Mayor treated this proclamation request like any other request that comes before the city council. It certainly qualifies for issuance, and the moans and groans by the other council members about it’s presentation, when they were not required to agree to it nor sign it, demonstrates the continued hostility towards the LGBT community in Porterville.
Religious fervor alone drove every remark, by both the public and the council members, that was hostile towards the LGBT community. I would remind those on the council in Porterville, and on councils and government bodies across this state and country, that when they took their oath of office, they (most likely) placed their left hand on a Bible, raised their right hand, and swore to uphold the Constitution of the United States, and the constitution of their state. They did not place their hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible.
Porterville should look long and hard at itself, and take a cue from Visalia.