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Porterville LGBT group launches to oppose rescinding city’s first-ever pro-equality proclamation

PORTERVILLE, Calif. -- A group of residents has launched Porterville Equality and Fairness For All (PEFA), a coalition of local LGBT organizations and allies, opposing the efforts of some city councilmembers to rescind a historic proclamation declaring June “LGBT Pride Month” in the city.

Porterville is between Fresno and Bakersfield in the San Joaquin Valley in Tulare County. The city's population is estimated at 55,000.

The proclamation was issued on June 4 by Mayor Virginia Gurrola recognizing the significant contributions of the LGBT community in Porterville.

“Mayor Gurrola took a brave stand against discrimination by supporting a proclamation acknowledging the significant contributions of the LGBT community in Porterville, and for that we thank her,” said Barry Caplan, coordinator of PEFA. “Now, some on the council find it necessary to rescind the proclamation, thereby rescinding acknowledgment of the city’s LGBT residents.”

June is celebrated as LGBT Month nation and statewide. Mayor Gurrola issued a proclamation honoring the LGBT community for its longstanding volunteer work in mental health and other areas that has benefited the entire community.

Despite the routine of all councilmembers signing proclamations recognizing community members, every member of the council, except for Mayor Gurrola refused to follow standard protocol. They refused to shake the hands of the recipients and refused to sign the proclamation.

Councilmembers Brian Ward and Greg Shelton have agendized revisiting the Proclamation at the upcoming council meeting on June 18. Shelton aims to discuss the “process” of the proclamation, despite Porterville’s process being the same or substantially the same as every other city in California. Ward proposes to rescind the proclamation mid-month, and to replace it with a resolution declaring “A Month Of Community Charity and Goodwill For All in Porterville.”

Porterville and its City Council has a long history of anti-LGBT activism. In 2008 during the Prop 8 campaign, Ward offered a resolution in favor of Prop 8, urging locals to vote to remove rights from themselves in order to harm a disfavored minority. Council passed the resolution unanimously, and locals responded at the ballot box voting for Prop 8 in proportions among the highest in the state. This was the only pro-Prop 8 resolution passed in the state.

As soon as Ward’s resolution was passed, an ad hoc group of activists came together to work against the injustice, and that group has evolved and expanded today into Porterville Equality and Fairness For All.

In the summer of 2009, then-Mayor and current Councilmember Cameron Hamilton proposed a resolution opposed to the state legislature’s efforts to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed out-of-state. A contentious public hearing ensued with the same level of Christian preaching and anger as seen on June 4, and to the surprise of the many in town, and perhaps to some of the council as well, the resolution was defeated by a 3-2 vote, with only Hamilton and Ward voting in favor.

Since then the positive activism has continued, keeping council in check until now, and expanding into the volunteer work that has been commemorated in the June 4 2013 Proclamation of LGBT Pride Month.

“Porterville’s LGBT community has risen to deliberately do excellent volunteer work in the areas of mental health, suicide prevention, bully prevention and more for years, despite ongoing levels of intolerance both inside City Hall and outside. Our goal is to live our lives with the same dignity as anyone else, and to be able to work, worship and raise families in a normal environment,” said Brock Neeley, local activist, LGBT volunteer and requester of the LGBT Pride Month Proclamation.

Porterville businessman and entrepreneur Barry Caplan said: “Brian Ward’s proposal and the actions of each of the four councilmen are harmful to Porterville’s business environment and economic development efforts. Porterville has economic resources that could pull it out of its malaise, but it will be important to maximize the use of its human capital, not to dehumanize the people here. It is quite simple: economic success always follows open-mindedness and acceptance of others. Council’s ongoing campaign against its own LGBT constituents hurts the city and all citizens in the pocketbook at a time when it can least afford it.”

Porterville Equality and Fairness For All consists of Gay Porterville, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Porterville, local chapters of Marriage Equality and Get Equal and individuals. Links to other resources including videos of the June 4, 2013 proclamation hearing are available at on the group's Facebook page.