By Mike Dunn
A CITY DIVIDED, BUT RESTRAINT TOOK THE DAY
On May 19th huge crowds gathered outside City Hall. Media reports estimated the crowd size to be in the hundreds. Those on site guessed it to be closer to 2, 000 as people filled the sidewalks on both sides of Draper and then spilled into the street. Another 900 would follow the Council proceeding on Facebook and Channel 26. Even before the City Council meeting was opened, Kingsburg Police Department closed Draper to vehicular traffic for safety reasons. It was a very peaceful and respectful gathering on both sides. Almost all gathered in solidarity against the proposition with approximately 30 who gathered in support
So what motivated such a large public response? Council member Jewell Hurtado asked the Council to adopt an LGBTQ+ Pride Month Proclamation and fly one rainbow flag annually from June 1st-June 30th in front of City Hall. That’s right, 30 days every year, indefinitely. In her opening remarks, Council member Hurtado insisted she was not motivated by a personal agenda or political gain. However during Council debate, she admitted that she had waited three years to introduce the two pronged proclamation and that it was personal.
Those who supported the proposal pointed to the higher than normal rate of suicide, mental illness and depression among youth in the LGBTQ+ community. That argument was generally met with empathy on both sides. Which is why an alternative recommendation to privately fund peer group counseling was lauded by both sides. In fact, to date many of those in opposition have already contributed financially to the plan presented by Alyjha Tauscher.
Many proponents, including Hurtado, characterized Kingsburg as an unsafe place for anyone in the LGBTQ+ community to live. Yet not one person cited a specific example of a hate crime occurring in Kingsburg. The first non-resident advocate to speak was Daniel O’Connell, Senior Executive Director of the Central Valley Partnership. According to their web page, CVP is a regional progressive network whose mission is to mobilize activists to hold “elected officials and institutions accountable to their progressive ideals.” O’Connell identified himself as a friend and supporter of Council member Hurtado. He went on to say, “It is painful to witness what is outside” referring to the growing crowd of citizens exercising their first amendment right to free speech and peaceful assembly. He then characterized the people of Kingsburg as examples of “fear mongering, hypocrisy, bigotry and hatred.” This was the first but not the last time proponents would describe the good people of Kingsburg in such derogatory terms. O’Connell went on to declare to the Council that “if you don’t vote in favor of the proclamation you will enter on the side of the Klan, the Proud Boys, and bigots.”
A similar claim was expressed by Hurtado during deliberations when she warned, “If people aren’t going to re-elect you or like you, or cancel you because you voted “yes”, that is hate in their heart. “Council member Pursell explained, “There is a difference. You can be a non-supporter of this proclamation and flag, just as I am, with zero hate for this community.” In response, Hurtado assured him, “after today it will happen no matter what.”
During Council deliberations each Council member offered their opinion, starting with Brandon Pursell. With the eloquence and confidence of a true leader, Pursell proceeded to give Hurtado a basic lesson in representative democracy. His position mirrored that of the vast majority of the residents of Kingsburg. “I don’t believe this is appropriate city business. I think this is a personal crusade for you, Council member Hurtado. With that being said, I am going to give you my opinion and what I have been told by my constituents. To anyone who doesn’t feel like they are welcome members of this community, I want you to know absolutely you are welcome as citizens of this town.” He continued, “To those that are wanting to see a proclamation and want to see a flag as a showing of acceptance for the LGBTQ+ community, I think you have that in a different form. I think you have that with an elected official. This town has elected an official that is part of the [LGBTQ+] community. I think that is a pure representation and a very democratic representation. You were elected by hundreds of people to sit here.” He continued, “You are up here for four years as that representation every week. Every time we have a meeting, you are that voice. I think we are an inclusive community and I hope that we continue to do that. That being said, I am not going to support the proclamation. If you are gay, straight, black, white or any category in this arena, you are a citizen of Kingsburg and I want it to stay united as such.”
Mayor Laura North continued the lesson in leadership, “This decision cannot be based off of our personal beliefs. That is not what we are voted up here to do. We were voted in by our constituents and over the last seven days we have been listening to them. I won’t vote in favor of the proclamation because, as an elected official I don’t get to decide for the citizens what they should celebrate and what they should not.
Vince Palomar continued to push back on the mischaracterization of Kingsburg as a bigoted or unwelcoming city. “I have lived here in Kingsburg all of my 56 years of life. Kingsburg is a gem of a city. No matter what race you are, what religion you are, whether you are atheist, whether you are gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, or transgender Kingsburg is a welcoming city. As an elected official, and leader in the community, I want people to know I will not bring my own personal and social issues to this Council.
Michelle Roman chose to focus on the plight of young people in the LGBTQ+ community saying, “You cannot deny the suicide rates that this group goes through. The last thing we want for our community is for any of our children not to feel safe. It isn’t just bullying, it is beyond bullying. If you have ever sat with any of these kids and heard this, you would understand this. So, I know Kingsburg can do a great job and by embracing everybody.” Michelle suggested city funds might be available to help fund the peer group counseling project proposed by Ms. Tauscher.
In the end, Ms. Hurtado’s motion died for lack of a second. However, the end of this story has not yet been written. Hurtado vowed to continue the fight proclaiming “one day it will happen” as she sheepishly declared, “I did not lose, I did not lose.” Regardless of Hurtado’s motivation, it is up to the residents of District 1 to decide if it will impact her ability to retain her seat in November2022.