Home to world class Pride events such as THE Pride Parade, San Francisco, and huge affairs in Los Angeles, Long Beach, San Diego, Palm Springs, and even Fresno (it’s the home to one of the nation’s oldest and largest LGBT film festivals), California is often thought of as the heaven of the gay world.
There’s a part of California, however, where that mindset is as foreign to the residents there as might be the Klingon home world. There are really two Californias.
The one most people think about when they think “California”, is the politically liberal, social progressive place the conservatives love to rant about. “Hollywood values”, or “San Francisco values” are epithets spat out like some horrid evil that’s ready to consume the unwary. The California that has Governors, Mayors, and City Council members vying for spots in convertible Corvettes and Jaguars as they wave to the crowds lining the streets for Pride Parades.
I live in the “other” California, and history was made here yesterday.
The “other” California is conservative California. Although there are pockets of conservatism in southern California, and in the eastern deserts, the heart of California conservatism is the vast Central Valley. Divided into to two named regions, the Sacramento Valley in the north and the San Joaquin Valley in the south, the region produces much of the food and fiber crops grown in the United States. Fresno county, located in the San Joaquin Valley, is usually #1 in the nation in agricultural production. Tulare County, where I live, is directly south of Fresno county, and is usually #2 in agricultural production, and #1 in dairy, nationwide. That ag based economy has produced the conservative nature of this region. Most of the counties in the valley are solidly Republican, with Tulare County having a 3 to 1 ratio of registered Republican to Democratic voters. The vote here in favor of Proposition 8 (the initiative to overturn the state’s Supreme Court ruling granting marriage equality in 2008) was 75%. The Democratic party seldom bothers to mount a challenge to the current occupant of the district’s House seat, held by Republican Devin Nunes. This region is VERY much the ‘conservative California’.
Even so, yesterday the City Council of Visalia proclaimed June LGBT Pride month in the city. Here’s the text of the proclamation:
LGBT Pride Month
WHEREAS, June is LGBT Pride Month across the United States; and
WHEREAS, Visalia has a diverse LBGT community, which includes individuals from all walks of life including doctors, lawyers, police officers, nurses, construction workers, professionals of all types, teachers, and religious leaders; and
WHEREAS, the LGBT community in Visalia has organized workshops, festivals,sporting events, dinners, and other activities to celebrate Pride throughout the year; and
WHEREAS, LGBT youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers, and more than 1/3 of LGBT youths have attempted suicide and nine out of ten LGBT youths report harassment at school, and three-fifths report feeling unsafe at school; and
WHEREAS, High School students in Visalia have organized Gay-Straight Alliances to fight bullying, provide support, and encourage education to combat homophobia; and
WHEREAS, being “out” is the most important action members of the LGBT community can engage in to provide role models, and support to young people who may be struggling with their sexual orientation.
NOW, THEREFORE, the City Council of the City of Visalia does hereby proclaim June 2012 as LGBT Pride Month in the City of Visalia and commend the LGBT Community for helping to raise awareness in our community.
The proclamation was signed by all five members of the Council.
The City of Visalia is one of the oldest cities in the region, established in 1852 from the collection of homes and businesses that sprang up along the Kaweah River and Mill Creek. The area has always been conservative, even “hosting” Union Army troops at Fort Visalia during the Civil War, to keep southern sympathizers in line.
Yesterday, however, Visalia took a step into the heady life of stereotypical California. With the Proclamation presented on June 18th, 2012, Visalia became the first city in the region to issue a proclamation honoring LGBT Pride. The larger regional cities of Bakersfield to the south, and Fresno to the north, have yet to issue such proclamations, according to a report in the Fresno Bee. (Read the comments to see how some are reacting to the news)
How did this come to pass? We asked.
Now, of course, things like this seldom happen in a vacuum. The Mayor, Amy Shuklian is a well liked, popular figure in the city. Elected to office in 2007, she has served as vice-mayor and now as mayor. She’s also an out lesbian, who lives in the city with her partner. Amy has never hid her sexual orientation or her partner, and it was never an issue in any of her election runs. Her service to the city, her irrepressible sense of humor (she also does stand-up comedy, mining her Armenian heritage for laughs), and her dedication to public service has undoubtedly led to fostering an atmosphere in the city government that is friendly to LGBT issues. One of the council members who signed the Proclamation was a guest speaker, in 2005, at a Marriage Rally held at a Visalia park, hosted by a very conservative Republican state representative, and featured Lou Sheldon of the ultra-conservative and anti-marriage-equality “Traditional Values Coalition”. Few supporters turned out for the rally, and there were more protestors present.
Things change. With the recent progress in LGBT rights across the country and the world, even little conservative Visalia feels the effects. Sometimes people are ready for that change, and all you have to do is ask.
Two months ago, I overheard a remark at a PFLAG meeting. It went roughly like this:
“Someone should put in a Proclamation request for gay pride to the City. I’m pretty sure it will be approved”. That comment was from a person with reliable connections in city government. I did some research on the procedure to request a proclamation, and when it became clear that nobody else was submitting one, I did. Here’s that story.
The rest, as they say, is history. Big, red letter day history for the LGBT community. Situated in the heart of conservative California, Visalia has moved forward. This was not the first step, however. It took years of efforts by a lot of people to get here. Those steps included Pride in the Park festivals, Family Fest (a family oriented LGBT Pride event in the historic Mooney’s Grove Park), Visalia Pride Lions (only the second LGBT Lions group in the US, after the 25 year old San Francisco Pride Lions), ongoing social groups like TEDG (Tuesday Evening Dining Group), the Rainbowlers, Tulare County Outreach Potluck, breakfast groups, Dining Out For Equality, and PFLAG (Parents, Family and Friends, of Lesbians And Gays).
I had the pleasure of accepting the Proclamation on behalf of the community, as I was the one who submitted the request. The truth, however, is that anyone could have downloaded the request form and submitted it to the city.
Here’s a moment from the night’s presentation: