Since at least the Prop 8 campaign in 2008, Porterville’s City Council has had a long and recent history of homophobic actions. Since 2008, when PEFA members first begain fighting back, many successes have occurred
Unique Pro-Prop 8 Resolution: In September of 2008, Council voted unanimously to become the ONLY City Council in California to pass a Resolution in favor of Prop 8.
The language of the Resolution (which you can read here) echoed the losing arguments later heard in the Federal trial where Prop 8 was found unconstitutional.
In addition, the language urged local voters to strip existing marriage rights at the State level from themselves in order to harm a group Council disfavors. Voters in Porterville responded enthusiastically, nearly 75% of them in favor of Council’s request.
As of November 2013, three of the five men who voted for the Resolution remain on Council::
Brian Ward, the Resolution’s author
Cameron Hamilton, Mayor at the time and now Mayor again as of October 2013
Pete McCracken, Mayor after Hamilton
None of these Councilmen have ever expressed a single word or remorse or regret at this vote.
PEFA’s First Reaction: Immediately after the vote, future PEFA founding members and others began speaking and educating Council at every opportunity during public speaking periods at public meetings. At this time, there was no limit as to how long any individual could speak or how many individuals could speak, and we took advantage of this to explain matters slowly and completely and persuasively.
Hamilton’s 2009 Homophobic Youtube Interview: In early 2009, then-Mayor Cameron Hamilton granted an interview to a reporter, a small fraction of which can be seen in the video segment produced by the reporter. His “shining moment” contains nothing but shamefully inaccurate medical information, which he uses as justifications for his actions to deprive the LGBT community of its Constitutional rights.
Hamilton has never expressed any awareness that his quote was harmful and wrong, nor has he expressed any remorse or regret at his justification for striking out at people’s rights.
- PEFA blocks Hamilton’s 2009 Resolution against SSM Recognition: In July 2009, then-Mayor Cameron Hamilton introduced another anti-LGBT measure for Council to consider. In the wake of Prop 8’s passing in California, State Senator Mark Leno’s bill SB-54 would have introduced clarity into the matter of if same-sex marriages legally performed in other jurisdictions outside of California would be recognized in our State.
Hamilton thought that Porterville’s Council should step up and express the anti-LGBT position, telling LGBT folks across the nation and around the world that their legal marriages were not worthy in California.
There was a dramatic, hours-long public hearing before the vote. The anti-LGBT crowd turned out en masse, using their specially limited time to preach and pray and otherwise beseech the Council to pass the measure.
When the vote was taken, PEFA’s nearly-yearlong efforts had paid off: Three of the Councilmen flipped their votes since the 2008 Resolution and Hamilton’s measure did not pass. Felipe Martinez was voted out of office at the next opportunity, in part for flipping his vote.
Pedro Martinez (no relation) moved out of town soon thereafter and was replaced by long-time insider Ron Irish by appointment without soliciting interest by others in the community..
Pete McCracken couched his vote in procedural terms, rather than directly expressing any support for the LGBT community, as has been his habit ever since.
McCracken Becomes Mayor, Limits Public Speaking Time of PEFA: Soon after this vote, McCracken organized a new Mayoral selection vote on Council (Porterville;s Mayor is selected by Council, and serves with no fixed term at Council’s pleasure), and he was selected to replace Hamilton. McCracken’s very first effort was to limit the amount of education that Council could receive from PEFA and the rest of the public, limiting speaking time to 3 minutes per speaker.
LGBT Volunteer Efforts Begin and Extend Across Years: Between 2009 and 2013, there was an uneasy truce between Council and the LGBT community. Aside from occasional verbal skirmishes, Council did not attempt any more homophobic actions while PEFA observed and tracked them while continuing to lobby within the constraints placed on us.
With less time devoted to Council and increasing civic interest and growing membership, some PEFA members began volunteering to assist folks in need in our County, reaching out to provide suicide prevention support and anti-bullying training and education with our County’s Suicide Prevention Task Force.
Unelected Mayor Ron Irish Cites Religious Views to Deny PEFA Lobbying: From 2010-2012 PEFA members worked in public and behind the scenes to lobby unelected-Mayor Ron Irish. Irish was scheduled to retire from politics at the end of his term. We urged him to consider his legacy to the City and work to rescind the 2008 Resolution and state the City’s position that all of its citizens are valued equally under the law. He refused, citing his religious beliefs that same sex marriage is wrong not long before leaving office.
He retired without showing leadership on the issue, leaving Porterville in the lurch. Virginia Gurrola was elected to take his place, and based on her leadership as a Councilmember nearly a decade before, including a prior stint as Mayor, she was chosen as Mayor again.
2013 Pride Month Proclamation Requested; Immediate Objections Ensue: On June 4, 2013, only a few weeks before the final Supreme Court rulings on Prop 8 and DOMA, PEFA founding member Brock Neeley requested an LGBT Pride Month Proclamation to honor the local community for its 4 years of volunteer efforts saving LGBT lives and lives across all demographics. Mayor Gurrola gladly agreed to do so.
The 4 other Councilmembers, comprising the three remaining from 2008 plus newcomer Greg Shelton, immediately objected. While the true reason for the objection is of course an unwillingness to acknowledge LGBT-positive actions in our community, the nominal reasons presented included various Christian doctrinal explanations, and a sudden concern that Mayor Gurrola had broken some sort of “process” regarding proclamations.
All 4 Councilmen broke with established protocol and refused to sign the Proclamation, and refused to shake hands with the 5 recipients, each of whom is gay. All 4 of them spoke on the record against the Proclamation.
An impromptu public hearing was held. Among members present to object to the Proclamation were Westboro Baptist Church associates wishing death on Gurrola and others in Porterville, and a local Nazi apologist whose homophobic (and other distasteful) views are a matter of public record online.
Many others prayed and preached and beseeched the Council to revoke the Proclamation and to lash out against gays, reducing Gurrola to tears as she explained the simple human decency behind the proclamation.
Brian Ward Broaches Idea of Rescinding Proclation, Greg Shelton Wants to Replace It: On June 11, 2013, at a smaller meeting designed to introduce the Council to annual city budget issues, Brian Ward, author of the 2008 Prop 8 Resolution, called for a vote to agendize a discussion to rescind the agenda. It passed on a 3-2 vote, with McCracken and Gurrola voting no. This was a bloc of three we would see again and again.
Ugly Public Hearing Number 2: On June 18, 2013, Ward’s measure was discussed after another large and contentious public hearing. PEFA turned out well over 100 people for the first time to speak in favor of the Proclamation, but each side was limited to only 10 speakers. Opponents again preached, prayed, and threatened Council and harm to the City itself.
Council voted 3-2, with Ward, Hamilton and Shelton in favor, to consider rescinding the Proclamation on July 17 at the next meeting. For good measure and piling on, Shelton introduced an item for July 17 to pass a Resolution (stronger than a Proclamation) declaring June to be a month of “Charity and Goodwill to All”.
Both of these measures would have to take effect retroactively, as Pride Month would be long over before they could be voted on. The irony was lost on Council.
US Supreme Court Rules Porterville’s 2008 Proclamation Target Prop 8 Unconstitutional: Before a vote could be taken on rescinding the Proclamation and replacing it, the US Supreme Court ruled Prop 8 unconstitutional and same sex marriages resumed in California. Also, the Court ruled DOMA unconstitutional and quickly Federal restrictions that PEFA had been calling for the end of for years began to fall by the wayside.
All of the language of Ward’s 2008 Resolution remains as a monument to Council’s unwillingness to consider the rights of its constituents for years. The words were completely discredited in this pair of rulings from the Nation’s highest Court, as PEFA had predicted would happen to Council at our very first visit in September 2008.
Ugly Public Hearing #3; Proclamation Rescinded and Replaced : On July 17, 2013, a 3rd public hearing was held on the matter of the Pride Month Proclamation, even though the month itself was already over for nearly 3 weeks.
The hearing featured more Bible waving, threats of harm to the City from God himself, and so on. Both Ward’s measure to rescind the Proclamation retroactively and Shelton’s to replace it retroactively with a thinly-disguised religious Resolution passed by the same familiar 3-2 vote: Brian Ward, Cameron Hamilton, and Greg Shelton in favor, and Mayor Virginia Gurrola and Pete McCracken opposed.
It appears to us at PEFA to be unprecedented in US history that an LGBT Pride Proclamation was rescinded, particularly after the Month was already long over. PEFA would be very interested to know the history of any Proclamations that were strongly objected to or rescinded. If you know of any similar cases, please contact us.
West Hollywood City Council Supports Porterville LGBT Community and Mayor Gurrola: On August 5, 2013, before Council could meet even one time after rescinding the Proclamation, the City Council of West Hollywood California unanimously passed a Resolution in support of Porterville’s LGBT Community and Mayor Gurrola. This was recommended to their Council by West Hollywood’s Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board with support of their Human Rights Commission, each acting with unusual swiftness.
PEFA organizes Demonstration of Acceptance of LGBT Community at City Hall During Council Meeting: August 6, 2013, was the first Council meeting following the rescission of the Pride Proclamation. At the same time of as the meeting, PEFA organized a demonstration of the wider community’s acceptance of LGBT folks in Porterville. More than 200 people turned out to hear music, 10 clergy members of a wide variety of faiths, and other speakers, and to help create a special canvas of thanks for Mayor Gurrola.
Ward Stages Coup, replaces Mayor with Hamilton, Becomes Vice Mayor Himself: Not satisfied with rolling back the Proclamation or replacing it with a religious one, in August of 2013 Ward introduced an item to remove Gurrola as Mayor and McCracken as Vice Mayor.
After yet another contentious public hearing and some political maneuvering, Hamilton was selected Mayor again and Ward was selected as Vice Mayor. The two historically most-active homophobic Councilmembers now hold the reins of power on Council together after this coup. Gurrola and McCracken remain on Council.