Editor's Note: Guest blogger Barry Caplan is coordinator of Porterville Equality and Fairness for All (PEFA), a coalition of local LGBT supportive groups, and local chapters of national organizations. To keep up to date, please click here and like PEFA on Facebook.
California entered the hearts and minds of the nation in the past few weeks, with the mid-June Supreme Court ruling that put the final nail in the coffin of Proposition 8's ban on same-sex marriage. Pride celebrations across the state and across the nation have exulted this victory for all of June.
But not all is well in California.
Allow me introduce you to Porterville, California -- my small Central Valley city of 55,000 -- where the elected officials have waged a five-year battle against the LGBT community and have three more anti-LGBT items on the agenda for tonight's meeting. It sounds impossible, but let me tell you how we got to this point.
In 2008, the Porterville City Council was the only city council in all of California to pass a resolution in favor of Proposition 8. It passed the measure, authored by then first-term councilman Brian Ward, in a unanimous vote.
No local LGBT organization existed at that time, but when the resolution was published in the local paper, the city council was served notice that it couldn't attack LGBT people with impunity anymore. A handful of local LGBT citizens and allies attended the very next meeting, and the effort to have pro-LGBT representation at city council meetings has continued and grown ever since.
Over the ensuing eleven months we attended every public meeting that the council scheduled. We also spoke out during the public comments period, taking a stand against the resolution and educating the public. When then-Mayor Cameron Hamilton was replaced by Pete McCracken in the summer of 2009, the new mayor instituted new rules to limit the amount of time we could speak.
Hamilton soon took advantage and offered a new anti-LGBT resolution, this time opposing State Senator Mark Leno's bill which would have allowed legal same-sex marriages legally performed out of state full recognition in California. A dramatic 90-minute public hearing followed, during which a parade of of people in support of the measure prayed, preached fire and brimstone and eternal damnation on the council and the city. When the vote came, however, our public education efforts paid off: we prevailed in a 3-2 vote, surprising not just Ward and Hamilton -- the only two members to vote for the measure -- but also the city at large.
One of the anti-LGBT councilmembers soon moved out of town, but was replaced by someone equally hostile. Another was voted out of office at the earliest opportunity.
In the ensuing four years since that 2009 vote, a kind of political truce took hold: the city council did not try to address any LGBT issues, and we monitored them to make sure there were no negative attempts.
In the meantime something wonderful happened: the LGBT community, steadily growing in visibility and willing to be seen and heard, started using its energy to improve the City. We became active in other civic matters, inside and outside of City Hall. We began to volunteer for a variety of charities and public service organizations.