Porterville responds to Governor’s veto

My name is Jamie Richie. I live in the small town of
Porterville, CA. Two months ago, I was just another concerned, but quiet member of the community.  Like a lot of people, I often thought of myself as an activist at heart, but I wasn’t really doing anything besides complaining.  In part because I didn’t really know what to do, and wasn’t aware of the resources available. I was looking for leadership in my area and found none.  I was sure there were more people here that had to be thinking the same thing. Then I met someone who inspired me to the point of action.

 

It started with a simple message on myspace.com from a stranger named Whitney in
Bakersfield.  I always look at the profile before adding anyone to my friends list, you know, just to make sure it is not spam. To my surprise, I found that she is a teacher by profession, and an activist in her precious spare time. She is the chair of Bako LGBTQ and chapter leader for Marriage Equality USA, Bakersfield Chapter. I asked her how I could get involved and she wasted no time in steering me in the right direction. She invited my friend Adam, my wife Susana, and I to come and join them in a rally on September 18th, to encourage the Governor to sign AB 43, The Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act, into law.

It bothered me that before meeting Whitney, I, nor anyone I know, had even heard of this bill before. How is it, that something so important to the LGBT community could go so unnoticed?   We were so proud to be a part of Bakersfield’s rally, but were left with the recurring thought, “think globally, act locally”. We should be standing up in our own community, not only representing gays, but also educating them and others, on this important issue. The thought of organizing it my self never seemed possible. What do I know about being a leader? But I started researching the bill anyway, and explaining it to anyone who would listen.

When Whitney contacted me, and told me about the statewide protest against the Governor’s veto, I immediately looked to see if anyone in Tulare County was participating. Not surprising to me, no one in Tulare County had announced any rally to coincide with the others going on in the larger cities. Obviously, being that it is 2007 and no one had stepped up yet, my first thought was that it could be a long wait. I was terrified, but this issue was too important to me to wait any longer.  I have to admit, I became a little obsessed. I spent the next 6 days on myspace.com posting bulletins to my friends, and sending messages all over Tulare County, to everyone who was listed as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. (They do not have a Transgender option. Hmmm… Why not Tom?)  I only received a few responses, and had no way of knowing how many people would actually show up, or if any would show up at all.  I knew that once I sent the word out, I could not back down. Even if no one else showed up, I still had my wife, and my closest friends who promised to stand by me.

I sent out press releases (with the help of Whitney again) to ABC 30 , Fox 26, The Porterville Recorder, Visalia Times Delta, and The Tulare Advance Register. I was worried about being interviewed. I have always been a bit camera shy, and I have never done anything like this before. But I knew the more media we got, the more awareness it would bring to the issue of marriage equality.

On the day of the rally, I was pacing back and forth excited, and again, terrified.  My wife, observant and caring as she is, could see how nervous I was. She took me by both hands, looked me in the eyes and said, “ I am so proud of you.” That was all I needed to hear. Susana and our daughters, Kristan and Dina, are all the encouragement I need to fight for this cause. My family is NOT 2nd class!

We loaded up our signs, and our family in the car, and headed to our rally location. When my friend Adam arrived we got out of the car, picked two signs each and stood on the street corner. The first response we got was from a man driving by in a truck, he yelled, “Go back to
San Francisco, this is Tulare County!” This kind of attitude towards other human beings is exactly why we were out there. People need to understand that we are everywhere, not just in the big cities. And everyone should have the same rights, regardless of their differences. That is what makes this a civil rights issue, not a gay agenda.   

One by one, people began lining up behind us and soon, all 16 of the extra signs we made, were being held proudly in the air. Thirty or more people, gay and straight alike, came out that night to show their support for equal marriage rights, and to send a very important message to the Governor. Even in small cities like Porterville, we are not afraid to fight for our families. We all deserve to marry the person we love, and all of the benefits that come along with it. I know that may not seem like a lot in comparison to the number of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals in our community, but for our little town of Porterville, this was a history- making event.

 Yes, we did face a little opposition. We knew we would, but the honks and waves of support made it all worth it. Every time someone honked our people would shout, “Woohooo!” It was such an amazing experience! I don’t think
Porterville has ever seen anything like this before. Everyone was having such a good time; they didn’t want to go home.  I think they would have stayed out there all night because they believed in what they were doing.

Out of all of the press releases that were sent out, The Porterville Recorder was the only one who wanted to cover the story. Thank you, Sarah, John, and Cynthia. We made the front page with our little protest, and it continued to be the highest- rated story for over a week on recorderonline.com. There were over 100 comments in response to our action. So many, that I think we overloaded their system.              

This was one of my favorite comments; I thought I should share it:

“It never ceases to amaze me when I read the type of draconian fear and smears such as you have posted above.
Ms Richie is echoing the voice of not just the LBGT community but of all free thinking champions and defenders of equality and truth.
I for one salute her grit and determination and would as a decorated heterosexual male US Army Veteran proudly stand with her and defend
her right to voice her outrage at this continued discrimination against decent hard working Americans who only wish to enjoy the same
freedoms dignities and rights that I and my fellow Veterans fought for and spent the coins of our lives and blood to defend. If more people read and understood our Constitution and Bill Of Rights, the cornerstones of our great democratic republic we would not continue to be so polarized on issues that should not divide us but unite us as the clarions of freedom, justice and equality that our forefathers intended us to be.
I urge you to rethink your position and consider seriously whether you would rather trust someone who’s views may differ from yours but are
open and honest in their beliefs or those who would skulk around in the seamy shadows espousing piety fidelity and abstinence but who when
we dig a bit further practice none of the morality they preach. There must be freedom and equality for all of us or there are hope and
justice for none. Thanks For reading”

The article was also translated and re-circulated in our Spanish newspaper, Noticiero Seminal, on October 19th.

 I will admit, some of the opposition was very discouraging, but the overwhelming response we got in support cannot be ignored. I have received e-mails of encouragement from all over the state, and a few other states as well.

Our action together is being recognized by the larger LGBT organizations as a civil rights movement, and an example to small towns everywhere.

To Whitney and friends from Bako LGBTQ (for inspiration), and all of the people who had the courage to join us, and the ones who wanted to but had to work, and  the ones that couldn’t due to threats of losing their job, or fear of dishonorable discharge, and all the people who honked, waived, and sent e-mails in support, Thank you. I couldn’t have done this without you. I would also like to thank all the folks who were leaving negative comments, for drawing more attention to our cause.

Even with the great disappointment of, the Governor’s veto, the fact that we came to together to stand against his decision, was a victory in my eyes. I felt like popping open a bottle of champagne.

Due to all of the responses I received from people wanting to get involved next time, I have started a yahoo group, Porterville LGBTQ and a myspace profile of the same name It’s  purpose is to keep people connected and up to date on events to come. 

I hope this inspires more people to join us in the future, because the fight will go on until we achieve total equality under the law, for all individuals, and our leaders truly represent all of the people, not just the “popular” vote.

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