In 2021, the Tulare City Council took an unusual step in expressing its support of the LGBTQ+ community.
It wasn’t just only that the council issued a proclamation this year naming June as LGBTQ+ Pride Month in the traditionally very conservative city. Because while cities in the Tulare and Kings counties have on occasion acknowledged Pride Month before, this time a city did it without being asked. It’s a rare moment in the history of equality in the San Joaquin Valley, one long overdue.
“I’ve never heard of that being done,” said Brian Poth, executive director of the Source, a resource center for the area’s LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, plus) community based in Visalia. “I’ve never heard it come from leadership before.”
Tulare Honors Its Own
Not only did Tulare’s city leaders independently draft and pass the resolution, they invited Poth and LGBTQ+ activist Brock Neeley to accept the proclamation on the LGBTQ+ community’s behalf, a very public recognition of the two Tulare native sons’ long fight for equality for themselves and their fellow citizens.
The official proclamation, Mayor Dennis Maderos said, represents a conscious effort by the city council to highlight the contribution members of a significant segment of the city’s population have made to Tulare’s progress and prosperity over the years. The intent is to acknowledge members of the LGBTQ+ community as equals in the context of a history of sometimes violent bigotry and repression, while inviting inclusion for all segments of Tulare’s diverse population in the process.
“It’s a recognition there are different groups in our community who have an immeasurable impact on our community, culture and economy,” Maderos said. “For instance June 19 is Juneteenth. We’re going to recognize that. June is Dairy Month, and we’ll recognize that.”
Poth says the Tulare council’s gesture marks a “huge shift” from how the LGBTQ+ community is perceived and treated locally compared to the past. It represents the humanization of a group often relegated to society’s margin. It represents the ongoing lessening of official intolerance.
“It’s important because it means the people we have elected really understand the importance of celebrating and uplifting the LGBT community. They understand the historical significance, even though it’s never been recognized in our area,” Poth said. “They did the right thing, and it’s important it comes from leadership, because it means it’s coming from the community. It’s recognition of the importance of the (LGBT) community to the larger community.”
LGBTQ+ Support Rarely Unconditional
Tulare’s support via proclamation is also significant because it came from a unified leadership body that did not equivocate in its supportive stance.
“It’s not typically unanimous,” Poth said.
Official government recognition of Pride Month is usually only granted when requested by LGBTQ+ advocacy groups, and it often faces opposition from members of the public. That was true for Tulare in 2021.
“There are many in our community who don’t necessarily agree with that (supporting the LGBTQ+ community),” Maderos said. “I received a letter condemning me for being a part of it.”
But, he added, elected officials have a responsibility to support, acknowledge and encourage efforts to contribute to the betterment of the community from all their constituents to foster inclusion that ultimately benefits everyone.
“We are leaders in our capacity as city council members,” Maderos said. “If we don’t recognize the contribution of a particular segment of our community, who’s going to do that?”
Visalia also acknowledges the LGBTQ+ community, but does so in the fall during the Source’s annual daylong Pride Celebration, this year scheduled for October 23 at Visalia Strong Ballpark.
“They kind of missed the mark a bit,” Poth said of Visalia’s lack of a Pride Month proclamation. We just didn’t have the energy to correct it.”
Pride Recognition Is Risky
Visalia isn’t alone in opting not to officially recognize Pride Month. No city besides Tulare has issued a similar declaration in Tulare or Kings counties, according to Poth, and neither has the Tulare County Board of Supervisors. It’s not because the groups weren’t asked. For the first time a coalition of groups united to call for more government recognition of the celebration of the LGBTQ+ community.
“It was a larger effort organized by a cohort,” Poth said. “Planned Parenthood and a lot of LGBT organizations had a big push to get proclamations. I don’t think that’s happened before.”
Cities in Fresno County were more responsive, but notably Kingsburg and Selma both reneged on initial agreements to give their official acknowledgement to Pride Month. Those reversals came after pushback from community members, some of whose complaints were on religious grounds. Kingsburg City Council member Jewel Hurtado is facing a possible recall because of her proposed proclamation to recognize Pride Month.
According to Tulare County Board of Supervisors Chair Amy Shuklian, who was a member of the Visalia City Council when it shifted from recognition of Pride Month in June to supporting the city’s Pride Celebration in October, the move was the result of a policy change away from giving official recognition to celebrations that were not marked with local events.
Shuklian–who has shared a home in Visalia with her partner Mary and their pair of chocolate Labrador retrievers for nearly three decades now–said an attempt during the first year on the Board of Supervisors to get recognition for Pride Month from the county ended with a total lack of support from the rest of the board and Shuklian issuing a “district proclamation” bearing only her signature.
Tulare Sups Still Holding Out
Now that she holds the chair and the board’s makeup has changed somewhat, Shuklian still hesitates to revisit the issue. The reason she hasn’t asked her fellow supervisors for official recognition for Pride Month in 2021, despite a citizen request for one since her first failed effort at acknowledgement, is because she believes it still wouldn’t be unanimously supported.
“I didn’t think it would get support from the rest of the board–I knew it wouldn’t get support from the rest of the board,” she said. “I didn’t want blank signature spaces.”
A majority vote in favor, which was a possibility, still wasn’t enough.
“Even if I thought three would do it, I wouldn’t do it,” Shuklian said. “It’s not a good sign of support. Hopefully, one day we can do a proclamation that has the signature of all five board members, but this year, that won’t happen.”
What will happen this year is the board’s recognition of the Source’s fifth anniversary and of the contributions that organization has made to the LGBTQ+ community, as well as the community at large.
“I decided instead to honor an organization that’s made a tremendous impact on our community rather than doing a template of a proclamation that doesn’t really have a local flair to it,” Shuklian said.
Progress is Progress
Still, the county’s top elected official says her belief her fellow supervisors would not support a Pride Month proclamation doesn’t indicate a lack of support for her or the LGBTQ+ community.
“I truly don’t believe that they don’t support the community, that (LGBTQ+) community, or myself,” she said. “I truly feel I get respect from all of my colleagues. They’re respectful to me; they’re respectful to Mary.”
And group recognition from the Board of Supervisors for the Source’s work is a step in the right direction.
“It’s a good start compared to four years ago when I stood alone,” Shuklian said.
The supervisors’ decision to honor the work of the Source during Pride Month is significant, Poth said, though not entirely satisfying. Yet, it’s encouraging.
“It feels like we have a lot further to go. It feels like we haven’t come far enough yet,” he said. “It feels like there’s more work to do, but we’re happy, as the Source, that our Certificate of Recognition is being handed to us during Pride Month.”