Porterville has once again found itself in the spotlight: video of its mayor making a colorful, off-the-cuff remark at a city council meeting while discussing an anti-bullying proposal, has become fodder for news stations and the internet commentariat.
During discussion of a “safe zone” proposal at the the city’s May 6 council meeting, Porterville’s mayor, Cameron Hamilton, expressed his displeasure with the idea in no uncertain words.
“I’m against bullying, but I’m getting damn tired of it being used as a mantra for everything, and the ills of the world,” Hamilton said at the meeting. “All most people just have to grow a pair, and stick up for them damn selves.”
“It’s hard to just grow a pair when you’re a 10-year-old girl,” responded Councilwoman Virginia Gurrola, who brought forth the proposal on the behalf of students involved in Burton Middle School’s Step Up program.
“Then maybe the other 10-year-olds that think they want to stop bullying will stand up for her, instead of a safe zone and a placard and a bunch of training that goes on,” Hamilton retorted.
So began the exchange that set forth Porterville’s reemergence into the media spotlight, nearly one year since last year’s raucous debate over the controversial pride month proclamation.
The exchange has been played and replayed on countless news networks — CNN, MSNBC, FOX News, CNN Headline News, and others — and printed in newspapers across the state and nation — the Los Angeles Times, the Bakersfield Californian and the Washington Times, among others.
“I did three interviews with CNN,” Hamilton said. “It hit Fox and Friends, it hit Rush, it hit Hannity, it hit The Five, it hit The View — of course, that [discussion] was derogatory.”
For his part, Hamilton says that he could have used less colorful language — but he stands by what he said. He also said that the media focus should be less on his statement and more at what he meant.
Members of the community felt that he may have been opposed to the proposal because of many “Safe Zones” being geared towards LGBT youth, especially after last year’s proclamation controversy.
“What they did, is they did a Google search, and these people don’t understand how these search engines work,” Brock Neeley, a Porterville resident and local LGBT activist said. “They did a Google search and the first ten that happen to come up happen to be gay safe zone programs.”
“My feelings were really hurt and I was, essentially, shocked by the end of it,” Melissa McMurrey, a member of Gay Porterville, told local news station ABC30. “It kind of felt like a little bit of a witch hunt, even though that was not the initial intention, from my understanding, of the Safe Zone project.”
Hamilton said that’s not the case at all.
“The LGBTs were trying to say it was all about them. They weren’t even being discussed,” he said. “Safe Zones, if you look them up, of course, there’s a whole bunch of them that are formed by the LGBT community. That wasn’t the proposal.”
He says that zero-tolerance policies in schools have backfired and created an environment in which bullied kids are afraid to stand up for fear of suspension or expulsion.
His opposition to the Safe Zone proposal stems from a combination of concern about city liability, ensuring the zones have properly background-checked people at them, costs for placards, and his view that bullies will simply find another place to antagonize their victims.
Instead, he says, students should stand up for their peers.
“If you were bullying somebody, and ten other students told you to knock it off, what would you do?” Hamilton said.
Hamilton also responded to an article published in the Porterville Recorder that took issue with him leaving during a meeting to talk on CNN.
“I was in L.A. the day before, and CNN wanted to do this follow-up program,” he said. “I had an obligation to tell my story for the national news, and I had an obligation to be here.
“I was here. I did not step away from my responsibilities. The easiest thing in the world when you’re under controversy is to skip a meeting,” Hamilton said. “I’ve never done that in my whole life. I believe in open communication whether it’s disfavorable or favorable.”
He said he welcomes an open debate over the issue of bullying, and that his office is open for anyone who wants to discuss it.
“In today’s world, we are in a time of tolerant intolerance — so you need to tolerate what I have to say, but I’m not going to tolerate what you have to say,” Hamilton said. “All that does is shut down communication.”