Virginia R. Gurrola was a good mayor that understood her role was to be an inclusive politician instead of a divisive preacher. Without much thought, she signed a gay pride proclamation for Porterville, California at the request of LGBT advocates. Her kind treatment of the town’s LGBT citizens brought her an unexpected wave of condemnation from the town’s fundamentalist Mormon and Nazarine churches, and ultimately she was ousted from her position as mayor.
“I never dreamed of the controversy it would create,” Gurrola told New York Times reporter Adam Nagourney.
Her replacement is an outspoken, proudly bigoted city council member, Cameron J. Hamilton (pictured), who seems hellbent on single-handedly wrecking the reputation of Porterville, a city of 54,000, which is located in the more conservative inland area of the state. Here’s the skinny on what happened:
The three Council meetings devoted to this subject drew a large attendance of Mormons and members of the Church of the Nazarene, a powerful force here. Mr. Hamilton is a member of the church, and its minister, Mark Pitcher, offered a 50-minute sermon against homosexual conduct in the middle of the debate, and posted it on the church’s Web site.
“Same-sex attraction is not a sin,” Mr. Pitcher said. “What is the sin is acting upon that attraction. We’re all tempted but temptation does not become a sin in your life until you act on it.”
In the course of his sermon, Mr. Pitcher expressed regret at what he said was rising pressure from society — including the news media and the entertainment industry — to press the acceptance of homosexuality. He argued that gay men and lesbians tended to live shorter and unhappier lives, be more prone to disease and suicide, saying, “We are praying for them to come into a right and growing relationship with Jesus.”
As a result, Porterville has been wracked by a season of intense debates and neighbor-versus-neighbor meetings in which people denounced homosexuality as a sin and demanded that Ms. Gurrola repent. Three gay rights activists were arrested for disrupting one of the meetings.
Such guttural hatred, thinly veiled as “love,” has made the residents of Porterville look less than enlightened — and the clueless new mayor can’t fathom why his town’s reputation has collapsed.
“It made it sound like we beat the hell out of them and would never embrace them — this redneck Central Valley desert town,” Mayor Hamilton said. “There’s just no truth to that at all. We’re a very loving community.”
Unfortunately, not everyone is feeling Hamilton’s twisted version of fundie love.
“I have never been more terrified,” said Melissa McMurrey, who heads Gay Porterville, a gay rights organization. “There’s no words to describe what it feels like to hear people go up there and say we’re into bestiality, and having someone next to you saying, ‘Amen, praise Jesus.’ ”
Mr. Hamilton and his self-righteous thugs don’t understand the way government works in America. We are not a theocracy and he his violating his constitutional responsibilities by imposing his personal beliefs on the entire community. In the process, he has alienated a good number of people, and risks cementing the reputation of Porterville as a small-minded backwater brimming with hatred and intolerance.
I have never been to this community, so that portrayal may be completely unfair. But, the actions of Hamilton and Pitcher make Porterville seem like an unwelcoming, unfriendly town — that one would not want to visit or start a business in. In the long-term, this can’t be good for the people of Porterville.
The best thing the citizens can do for the town’s future is reinstate Virginia Gurrola as mayor. The second best thing that residents of this town could do is host a NALT Sunday, so the good Christians in that town (and I’m assuming there are a few) can tell the world they are “Not All Like That.”
* Photo credit, Monica Almeida/The New York Times