Going against the grain another time in national news, Porterville, California is under scrutiny for its recent city council decisions around the subject of lgbt rights and same-sex marriage.
For over a month there has been a heated debate within the community after the mayor signed a proclamation naming June “Gay Pride Month.” Mayor Virginia Gurrola was following the lead of both President Obama and governor of California Jerry Brown, who made declarations earlier. Of the members of the city council, the mayor was the only signatory, sparking a divide within the community. While it is within the duties of the mayor to issue proclamations with the council signing afterward, none of them joined in, setting the stage for the intensity that followed.
After the Supreme Court found Proposition 8 unconstitutional and allowed California to resume and recognize same-sex marriages, the lgbt community held a peaceful rally in a local park, and local government moved cautiously around the news. Some in the community were disappointed with the ruling, while others were nonplussed, seeing it as expected from the court.
On Tuesday, July 16, the city council met to debate the mayor’s declaration, to vote on repealing the notion, and to replace it with another. Beforehand in mid-June, council member Brian Ward drafted a resolution to call June “A Month of Community Charity and Goodwill to All.” The document was intended to have a more-widespread impact than just singling out a specific group.
When debating this decision, Ward asked the crowd, “Why does the LGBT community get special consideration? Why can’t it apply to everyone?” In just the beginning of the chaos of the night, someone in the crowd yelled back, “Because you hate us!” The council chamber was full of people, gaining a lot of attention from community members on which way the council would vote.
In 2008, the Porterville city council was the only one in the state of California to pass a resolution in favor of Proposition 8, and the feelings of the crowd reflected the past pain. Many felt that the decision to replace “Gay Pride Month” with something else rather than to include it alongside was homophobic and intended to cover up differences in the community rather than address them.
Back in the council chambers, police had to be brought in later that night when the vote to rescind the proclamation passed 3-2 and the crowd became visibly upset and agitated. Three activists disrupted the proceedings, holding up signs and shouting “You’re not fair!” All three were arrested and spent the night in jail.
It’s to be seen what will happen in the small but divided community of over 50,000 residents. Mayor Gurrola told the Huffington Post that she stood behind the proclamation, and that she became visibly agitated because she did not think that it was as controversial as the community made it be. She also said that after the vote was taken, a young person went to her, also hurt about what occurred in the meeting. “I told him, ‘be proud of who you are and don’t let those words hurt you, they’re just words.’ In general, I always try to tell young people around here, ‘you know what, we’re here for you. I’ve got your back.’” With sadness over the night, she added, “I’m afraid this time I didn’t have their backs.”