Editor’s Note: John Alita served as the Director of Community Services for the City of Stockton from 2014-2020 and as Deputy City Manager from 2020-2022. He is a Stockton resident and proud member of the LGBT community.

Twice in one week I had the misfortune to see the low regard San Joaquin County elected officials have for their LGBT+ community members and voters. In the first instance, Supervisors Tom Patti and Steve Ding voted against raising the Pride flag at the county building, defeating the motion Supervisor Paul Canepa presented. I thank him and the other supervisors who voted for the measure. That’s what allies look like.

Then, to add insult to injury, Stockton Mayor Lincoln and City Council members Michele Padilla and Michael Blower voted not to raise the pride flag, resulting in a tie vote because council member Susan Lenz was absent. Council members Brando Villapudua, Dan Wright and Vice Mayor Kimberly Warmsley voted for the item. That’s what allies look like. Stockton has raised the pride flag for the past four years, and over a dozen members of the public spoke in support of the motion to fly it again and none opposed it. The item will come back for a vote on Tuesday, June 20. 

One of the specious talking points that was parroted was that there was no need to raise a flag for one group since old glory represents freedom, liberty and opportunity for all. I love my country and what our flag represents, but the LGBT+ community is not treated as equals in America.

If that were the case, why do LGBT+ people have no federal housing protections in 29 states? They can be thrown out on the street simply for being LGBT+. Furthermore, more than one in eight LGBT+ people live in states where doctors can refuse to treat them. Imagine that. Imagine bleeding out somewhere in America and a doctor says, “No, not that one. “

The no votes by our local politicians are not coincidental. This year more anti LGBT+ legislation has been introduced in statehouses across the country than ever before. On June 6, for the first time ever, the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest advocacy group for the LGBT+ community, declared a national state of emergency for LGBT+ people’s safety in the United States. Read that again: a national state of emergency.

Even more appalling, two meetings before this vote, those same council members saw live and up close the unequal treatment of their LGBT+ citizens, when a group of bigots spewed abhorrent lies about drag queens grooming children because the Pride Center applied for a permit for a drag show at Pixie Woods. Is that who we are now, accusing people without evidence of being pedophiles? And why didn’t the mayor use his gavel on those people for violating the rules of decorum? I wonder what would have transpired If anyone else in that room had been called a pedophile? 

Those council members heard all of that vitriol before they took their vote on Tuesday. They know that discrimination is alive and well in Stockton and San Joaquin County. Are all these politicians bigots? I don’t know, but they’re certainly not our allies. They will offer words of support when it suits them, and then throw us under the bus when we’re at our most vulnerable. 

Look, I get it, drag queens make some people uncomfortable. They think it’s weird, but pedophiles? Really? Right. Because pedophiles love to be the center of attention and have everyone know who they are. Because they host events and announce them to the public and invite parents to pay $15 a head so that their kids can be groomed. It’s ludicrous. And it is dangerous. It puts a target on the backs of people born and raised in this community, good citizens with families of their own. And it is hate. A toxic brew of fear, ignorance and moral superiority.

By the way, it seems like a lot of people in Stockton enjoy watching men dressed up like Disney princesses lip syncing the lyrics to “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” from Frozen. The Pride Center event sold out.

I don’t know how Tuesday’s vote will go. Even if these three change their minds, they have a long road back to repair the trust they broke. And if they double down, whatever lame excuse they use, we know the real reason. This community deserves so much better.

By the way, I know most of these people. We worked side by side at City Hall. We all saluted the same flag before every council meeting. I think the difference was that they were pledging to a flag they thought had already accomplished the lofty promise of liberty and justice for all, while I was pledging to a flag that still has a few promises to keep.

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  1. Cheers to the courage of councilmembers Susan Lenz, Brando Villapudua, Kimberly Warmsley, and especially Dan Wright and his clear, articulate words. I wish more people understood that the motive behind these “culture war” issues is money for the super rich.

    Every wedge issue that the GOP has embraced for decades, whether it’s abortion, the flag, potentially offensive books, trans/bathroom issues, etc. -they are ONLY designed to incite voters to protect billionaire wealth. The super rich will continue to get abortions, and to explore the sexually “deviant” behavior they rage against (including dressing in drag when it suits them), but, they use fear and hate to engage their base to also vote against regulation (environmental, worker safety, anti-trust) that could cost them the least amount of money. It’s the biggest scam there is, and it’ll keep working for as long as (otherwise caring, empathetic) people give into hate, and fear, and swallow the lies. The number of police officers, priests, pastors, youth leaders, and Republican politicians convicted of child sex abuse/pedophilia collectively numbers in the thousands. The number of “drag queens” convicted of these same crimes? Studies show that 80% of individuals on the sex offender registry are heterosexual… so, only 20% are from the LGBTQ community. (https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/SORS-LGBTQ-May-2022.pdf)

    Or, as has been reported before: “Statistically your child is far safer with a Drag Queen rather than a Priest.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Jay_Report)

    Now, whether Kevin Lincoln, Michele Padilla, or Michael Blower actually believe the non-sensical, hypocritical, garbage they were spewing Tuesday night, or whether they just thought they could score some cheap and wasted political points with the most hateful among their constituents, they should be ashamed either way… and certainly face the natural political consequences for their miscalculation. For me, this is like a canary in the coal mine. For, if these representatives can be so backward, wrong, and illogical about a flag representing inclusion flying over the city for a week, how terribly must they be bungling issues of extremely serious and lasting consequence?

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