Last month, the City Council of Porterville, California, removed Mayor Virginia Gurrola and Vice Mayor Pete McCracken from office. There is overwhelming evidence suggesting this is due to Gurrola’s earlier proclamation that June be recognized as LGBT Pride Month in Porterville. Following her signing of the proclamation, Gurrola was subject to an extreme onslaught of religiously-motivated homophobia at city council meetings and elsewhere—attendees waved bibles in the air while screaming that homosexuals were “worthy of death.”
California is generally regarded as a liberal state, but its relationship with LGBTQ rights has been a complicated one, pointedly illustrated by the passing and subsequent judicial repeal of Proposition 8. During the 2008 election season, Porterville’s City Council was the only City Council in California that passed a Resolution in favor of Proposition 8. Given the rapid change in public opinion in favor of marriage equality in California, this level of anti-LGBTQ outrage against Mayor Gurrola from the community warrants more insight.
It has become a typical trend for opponents of LGBTQ rights become more abrasively oppositional after progress is made for human rights. As civil rights for LGBTQ people have gained significant ground over the last decade, the number of officially identified anti-LGBTQ hate-groups also jumped from one in 1998, to 27 in 2011. The most notable jump occurred after Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage in 2004. There, violence against the LGBTQ community skyrocketed, and since 2004 the rate of acceleration of hate crimes directed towards the LGBT community in Massachusetts has been consistently twice that of the nation’s acceleration rate.
It is not just an increase in hate-groups or hate-crimes, though. The increase in backlash funding to extremist right wing groups has time and time again proven to have an impact in the political arena. In April 2009, The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) successfully unseated three State Supreme Court judges in Iowa after their decision to legalize same-sex marriage. NOM and other conservative and religious groups were able to amass more than $650,000 in the name of “defending marriage”, whereas campaigns supporting the justices only had the resources to spend $200,000. NOM was also successful in unseating New York Republican Senators who voiced support for marriage equality in 2011.
Such instances point towards a need for more funding for equality groups and the undermining of funding for anti-LGBT groups. The issue is not so black and white, though – all too often, individuals believe that they are contributing to a worthy religious or charitable cause, when in reality they are funding an agenda primarily or partially dedicated to halting or regressing social justice and civil liberty for minority groups. A prime example would be The Knights of Columbus (K of C), the world’s largest Catholic Fraternal Organization. The organization has gained a reputation for working with immigrants and contributing to other important charitable causes, so without digging deeper, donors may not realize that K of C is also on the forefront of the anti-LGBTQ movement. A 2012 report released by Equally Blessed revealed that since 2005, K of C has provided more than $15.8 million dollars toward anti-LGBTQ initiatives—$6.25 million directly to anti-equality efforts and $9.6 million to organizations that “build a conservative religious and political culture to oppose efforts for marriage equality.” This included a donation of $1.9 million to NOM and $1.2 million to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The Knights of Columbus are just one of numerous organizations that use this tactic. By acting charitably towards other causes and justifying their homophobia using religious rhetoric, such organizations are able to maintain a holy air about them while, behind the scenes, they dig into the pocketbooks of religious peoples in order to further disenfranchise the LGBTQ community.
The reach of anti-LGBTQ groups is vast, as exemplified by the fact that Gurrola, who self-identifies as straight, was subject to such hate for merely voicing support for the LGBTQ community. A community of vocal and visible backing is essential in order to make progress, especially under the ever increasing threat of right wing extremist groups. To sustain to the fullest extent candidates, organizations, and allies who defend LGBTQ rights, we must be cognizant of all factors that affect this complex and evolving fight for equality. To this end, we must not only be aware of the progress pro-equality individuals and groups are trying to make, but also be knowledgeable about ways in which the opposition are trying to bring them down.