June is LGBT Pride Month. On June 28, 1969, the New York City Police Department conducted a raid at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar. The raid set off three days of riots by patrons protesting the frequent harassment, public shaming, and jailing of customers. The riots are now recognized as the beginning of the modern gay rights movement in the United States. On Tuesday, May 31, President Obama issued a Proclamation recognizing June as LGBT Pride Month for 2016. (It’s been immensely entertaining to see the right-wing noise machine go ballistic that the President “ordered” Americans to celebrate the occasion.)
In the intervening 47 years, we’ve gone from people being arrested for simply being in a gay bar, to marriage equality in all 50 states. Visalia and the surrounding area has had an interesting history, as well. Our newly opened LGBT+ Center, theSOURCE, is working on building a record of the gay community in Visalia and Tulare County. Here are a few of the memorable moments in recent LGBT history.
In the late 90’s, members of the community organized The Lavender Ball, a charity event. Several thousand dollars were raised over the years the gala events were held, at the then-Radisson Hotel in downtown Visalia.
In 2008, 2009, and 2010, QueerVisalia held “Pride in the Park”, a community BBQ and gathering at Plaza Park. In 2009, 2010, and 2011 “Family Fest” brought together a large number of residents and their families for an afternoon of fun and celebration at Mooney Grove Park.
2008 saw the formation of the Tuesday Evening Dining Group. TEDG dines at various establishments in Tulare and Kings counties. Twice a year the Vintage Press hosts a special menu dinner for the group.
In 2009, Visalia Pride Lions became the second LGBTQ Lions club in the United States. The first was in the Castro District of San Francisco. Other clubs have been formed, following Visalia’s example. In 2015, I was honored to receive the “Heart of a Lion” award, presented by the Visalia Pride Lions.
2012 saw a historic first for the LGBT community. The Visalia City Council issued a Proclamation recognizing June 2012 as LGBT Pride Month. That proclamation was repeated in 2013. Visalia became the first government body in the valley to recognize June as LGBT Pride Month. (After the 2013 proclamation, the city of Visalia changed the rules for proclamations, making it less likely that they would recognize Pride Month in the future. A cynic might suspect the changes were not coincidental, and intended to prevent the proclamation from becoming an annual event.)
In 2013, Porterville became embroiled in controversy when Mayor Virginia Gurrola issued a similar proclamation. Religious zealots immediately responded with anger and hatred directed at the LGBT community and Mayor Gurrola. Councilmen Brian Ward, Cameron Hamilton, and Greg Shelton introduced, voted on, and approved actions that rescinded the Mayor’s proclamation, removed her and the vice-mayor from their ceremonial offices, and changed the rules on issuing proclamations. During public comment times at council meetings, several people repeated Biblical passages that say homosexuals were “worthy of death”. Others stood to make unfounded and ridiculous accusations towards gay men and lesbian women, to the applause of many in the chambers. (Porterville was the only government body in California to vote and pass a resolution urging it’s citizens to vote in favor of Proposition 8.)
For the past several years, gay veterans and their supporters have marched in Porterville’s Veterans Day Parade. At first frowned upon, the group has become a cheered contingent in the parade. Local members of PFLAG, Visalia Pride Lions, and members of the Visalia and surrounding LGBT communities walk in the St. Patrick’s Day parade in downtown Visalia.
May 2016 saw the opening of theSOURCE LGBT+ Center in Visalia. Their “mission is to provide spaces within our communities for the LGBT+ population to Learn, Grow, Belong, Transform, Question, and Support. The vision is to cultivate new resources through advocacy, partnerships and fundraising to unite and advance the LGBT+ community in Tulare & Kings Counties”.
Despite the current hand wringing over bathrooms by right wing religious fanatics, the future looks bright for the LGBT community. It sometimes seemed like Visalia and Tulare County would not take part (the overwhelming votes for Propositions 22 and 8 are an example, along with Porterville’s officially sanctioned disdain towards the LGBT community), but we have come a long way towards equality. The future looks bright, and with the addition of theSOURCE LGBT+ Center to act as a hub of connection, the area can look forward to many years of community, friendship, and advancement.