Meet Brian Ward He is a City Council member in the city of Porterville and has just been appointed Vice-Mayor. The story of how he gained that post is one of small-town politics, religiously driven ideology, and anti-gay animus (and dare I say it, hatred?).
In 2008, Councilman Ward introduced a resolution at the September 2nd council meeting, which put Porterville on the map as the only city (or any other government body, for that matter) in California to take an “official” position on Proposition 8, the ballot initiative that removed marriage equality from California’s LGBT community. The Porterville Council voted unanimously to pass the resolution, calling for the passage of Prop 8 and urging Porterville citizens to support the initiative.
Things have been going downhill ever since.
Conservative in the extreme, even for the Valley, Porterville’s City Council has on more than one occasion voted to object to LGBT related issues at the state level. Each time they have been asked to cast a vote on some LGBT related item, Councilman Ward has been the one to bring the action to the floor of the chambers.
In June 2013, Mayor Virginia Gurrola was asked to present a proclamation declaring June LGBT Pride month in Porterville. After checking to insure the request met city guidelines, she approved it. Needless to say, Mr. Ward and his accomplices on the council were not pleased. Neither was a good portion of Porterville’s religious population. The screams raised in protest to the Mayor’s actions could (probably) be heard in Heaven, as well as in Hell. Mr. Ward immediately began work to rescind the Proclamation (the first time any city has done so, at least as far as I have been able to discover).
After weeks of Keystone-Kops-esque machinations, where wording placed onto the council agenda only allowed the council to agree to discuss rescinding the proclamation at the NEXT council meeting, Councilman Ward and his co-conspirators, council members Greg Shelton and Cam Hamilton, finally got all their ducks in a row, and voted at the July 16th meeting to rescind the Mayor’s proclamation. All hell broke loose.
The religious community had been up in arms over Mayor Gurrola’s issuing of the Pride Month proclamation from the moment they heard about it. Even though the process in Porterville has always been one of community members submitting a request to the City, and of the Mayor approving that request and presenting it at a Council meeting, speakers harangued Mayor Gurrola over the course of the next three council meetings for exceeding her authority, and daring to present such an evil thing. Council members Ward, Shelton, Hamilton, and to a lesser extent McCracken, all spoke against the proclamation the night it was issued. Public comment during the meetings included a lot of vitriol directed at Mayor Gurrola by the religious community, with at least two speakers calling for the Biblical punishment for homosexuality – that homosexuals are “worthy of death”. A few screamed at the Mayor while waving Bibles in the air. Speaker after speaker rose to condemn the LGBT community, spouting falsehood after lie after endlessly disproven statistic and other made up nonsense. Above it all, on the wall behind the council members, are the words “IN GOD WE TRUST”.
As if the rescinding of the LGBT Pride Month proclamation and changing the rules on the issuance of future proclamations wasn’t enough of a slap in the face of the community, Ward presented another action to the council. His latest proposal sought to remove Council member Gurrola from her position as Mayor (a ceremonial office), as well as Vice-Mayor Pete McCracken from his. It seems Ward feels that Gurrola doesn’t deserve the position, since she is obviously a ‘gay lover’ (my term, nothing Ward ever said. He actually doesn’t say much at council meetings. At least not at the three this writer attended). Vice-Mayor McCracken had to go, too, since he supported the Mayor’s authority to issue the Proclamation, even though he didn’t support it. That’s still too much ‘gay love’ for Mr. Ward, and the vote was taken at the September 16th meeting to oust both Gurrola and McCraken from their posts (but not their seats on the council). In their place, the remaining three staunchly anti-gay council members voted Hamilton as mayor (even though the supposed reasoning for the vote was to change up the leadership, and allow someone who had not been mayor to hold the position, and Hamilton has already served at least one term as mayor), and Ward as Vice-Mayor. Shelton was nominated to be Mayor, but he declined, reportedly saying “that chair does something to people”. (another undisguised barb, one of many heard over the course of several sessions, directed at Mayor Gurrola)
City councils certainly have the right to set their own operational standards, and decide how they will select officers of the City (according to their charters, of course). But when they change those offices in response to emotionally driven religious zealotry, they fail to live up to the expectations of the community that they will be fierce defenders of the Constitutions of California and the United States. You can’t stand for equality while voting to rescind it. The difference between Porterville’s handling of this issue, compared to Visalia’s, is stark. You’d wonder that both cities are in the same state, let alone the same county!
So there you have it. Despite any protestations you may hear over the “real” reasons for the changes, it’s clear the entire farce has been orchestrated by religious zealots, determined to prevent the recognition of the LGBT community by any and all means available, and to punish anyone who would dare to so recognize them.
Virginia Gurrola and Pete McCracken have for some time been the only adults on the Porterville City Council. Now the ‘three stooges’ (with apologies to Larry, Moe, and Curly) have successfully completed their coup d’état, we can only hope the voters in Porterville will ‘toss the bums out’ at the next election.
Printed in the weekend edition of the Visalia Times Delta, September 21-22 2013