It was a historical night for the LGBTQ+ community in Porterville as the City Council passed the first ever proclamation that directly ties to the gay community. National Coming Out Day was brought to light under the Council’s discretion, and ultimately commemorated on paper with the National Coming Out Day proclamation. 

Brock Neely pushed the proclamation hard on the Council, and was upset when it didn’t appear on the agenda for the Council meeting on October 1. He said that all of the proper paper work had been submitted and the support for the proclamation was there, yet it did not receive Council consideration until Tuesday night. National Coming Out Day is celebrated on October 11, which was a large reason behind Neely’s anger with the Council. Had it been on the agenda for the meeting scheduled for October 1, the proclamation would have been passed in time.

But it was Tuesday night, October 15, that marked the historical moment for Porterville’s LGBTQ+ community, and the Council was still at odds when it came down to the vote.

“I am really excited to have sponsored this proclamation,” said Council member Daniel Penaloza.

He then moved for the approval of the proclamation, which received a second from Council member Monte Reyes. Before the vote was cast however, the Council needed to discuss the item amongst themselves.

“I’m not saying there has been enough progress,” said Council member Virginia Gurolla. “There has not been sufficient progress, but there has been some progress in the LGBT community. We also know that there have been many, many young people who have experienced devastation in their lives when they do come out, but I just wish that they would use current data. I don’t like to look at data that is out and old. I want to see what is current now so that is my concern with it.”

Council member Stowe was up front and openly blatant about his opposition to the proclamation.

“I’m, personally, going to vote against it and it’s not because I’m against gays or anything,” said Stowe. “It’s just my belief. I love you just like I love anybody else in this community. You’re just as valuable, but personally I just can’t get behind it. I’m sure you are all great and I support you 100 percent in whatever you do but I can’t support the proclamation.”

Mayor Martha Flores seemed to be on the fence about her decision, but after taking her own beliefs into account, was swayed to the opposition side.

“I’m torn and I don’t deny it,” said Flores. “I have it in my family and I love my family and I have a great respect for and a lot of admiration for all of my friends. I, too, was concerned because I also did some research but it had to do with a 2017 article that I read on the Washington Post, and there was some preference that they choose to not come out. So as I weigh in in my personal belief of detaching myself, I am really torn whether to or not to, but I am going to be respectful of the Council dais regardless of what the outcome is on the vote because I find great admiration for each and every one of you. There is no differentiation in my heart so that you understand. Regardless of the vote outcome here tonight, that if it’s a unanimous vote or it doesn’t weigh in, please know that it is not directed at you personally. It’s weighing in on personal belief.” 

Gurolla seemed to be a small voice of reason about the proclamation and what it would mean to the community which has battled for LGBTQ+ recognition for years.

“We all have our own beliefs and our own desires,” said Gurolla. “This is a ceremonial proclamation and it’s really important to you. I understand that. I went through this already once, and I lived through it, and  actually the community came out better for it. I believe it did come out better. We have programs at the schools that never existed before. People told me they talked about the LGBT community when they’d never talked about it before. So National Coming Out, from what I understand in my research, is that you can do it in so many different ways. This proclamation is ceremonial. It’s what you do with those efforts, engaging in the community. You have started that and I applaud you for doing that at the schools. You are examples to be followed. It takes courage, it takes an enormous amount of courage to stand up and come out so I just want to applaud you for that.” 

Penaloza, who was the Council member to push the proclamation on to the agenda for Council consideration, shed some light on why he supported the proclamation whole heartedly.

“I see this as an issue that sometimes we have to take leadership to do what’s right regardless of the opposition that exists in our political climate, regardless of what retaliation may exist,” said Penaloza. “Morally, I grew up religiously. I’m a Seventh Day Adventist and still a member of the church here locally. But my mom did teach me to believe in justice for all, not just for some. So when  I think about this proclamation, that is one of the reasons I supported it was because I saw it as that. I believe in equality for everyone  in our community and sometimes it’s hard, in this political climate it’s hard to stand up for your values and do what’s right. Even if I didn’t have any one close to me that was gay, I would still support this.” 

The last to weigh in on the issue before the vote was cast was Council member Monte Reyes.

“I just want to say that I feel like I’ve gotten into a time machine and gone back 25 years,” said Reyes. “I think I dealt with this when I was in fourth grade when I moved to the Bay area and it’s sad that I have to deal with this today. I don’t think it’s all about my personal beliefs, religious or otherwise. I think that it’s about my constituents beliefs and the minute I put my personal beliefs above my constituents, I shouldn’t be here anymore.”

The vote was then cast, and the proclamation passed 3-2. Stowe and Flores stood in opposition.

“This is a step,” said Gurolla as she applauded.

All of the Council members signed the proclamation, before Flores read it aloud.

In the audience, ready to accept the signed proclamation, was Monache High School (MHS) instructor and the advisor of the Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) club on campus Melissa Moreno, MHS students and GSA members Skye Hunter and Ofie Jane Castillo, and Brock Neely. Castillo was in tears, and Moreno and Hunter were smiling ear to ear as they accepted the proclamation.

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