Vacaville mayor declines to sign Pride proclamation

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday June 4, 2024
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Vacaville Mayor John Carli. Photo: From Facebook
Vacaville Mayor John Carli. Photo: From Facebook

The board of the Solano Pride Center is expressing its disappointment with Vacaville Mayor John Carli, who opted not to sign a proclamation for Pride Month this year and didn't notify the center's board when the rainbow flag would be raised.

After initially opting not to fly the flag or recognize Pride Month last year, as the Bay Area Reporter previously reported, Carli made the last minute decision to do so, as KXTV-TV reported. That initial refusal would have made Vacaville the only city in Solano County not to recognize Pride Month in some fashion.

But now the East Bay Times reports that the city issued a Pride Month proclamation this year only after it was signed by Vice Mayor Greg Ritchie because Carli declined to sign it.

The text of the document was provided to the Times and the Solano County Pride Center, but was not released by the city. The center sent a copy to the B.A.R. It doesn't declare June to be Pride Month but, rather, states June 2024 is "a time to recognize, support, include, and safeguard the LGBTQ community," which is the resolution's only reference to the acronym or to LGBTQ people at all.

The proclamation asks residents to "respect and honor our diverse community," and celebrate "our interconnectedness as well as our differences."

"The language is so vague that it could apply to any other community, without addressing the violence members of our community experiences every day," center Executive Director Will McGarvey stated in an email to the B.A.R. on behalf of the center's board. "Every other city we have received proclamations from has adapted the language we have offered, but has still included the historical portions because that was the point."

McGarvey stated that he'd reached out to the mayor's office "early" and "sent proposed language to use in a proclamation that actually gives an account of our history of discrimination and need for civil rights protections from our elected leaders," and did not hear back despite attempts to learn about when a proclamation would be made.

A rainbow flag is flying over Vacaville, McGarvey stated, but the center's board is also upset that it wasn't notified when the flag would go up, so they could be there to celebrate.

"Our biggest frustrations have centered around the lack of notification of when the flag was to be raised, as we experienced in almost every other city of the county today," McGarvey stated. "Because we were not notified of the time of the flag raising, our community was denied the opportunity to be in attendance and participate to mark the moment. We understand that the Pride flag has been raised on the School Street site, and will remain except for a day to honor the Army on June 14 (veterans comprise a significant portion of our community). Though we sent our request to the whole City Council on April 17, we have had to ask for responses rather than a friendly sharing of events. The lack of communication feels intentional."

All in all, the center's board feels that Carli is treating LGBTQ people "like second class citizens," McGarvey stated.

"We call upon the good people of Vacaville to remind their mayor that his oath of office is to serve all of the city, and not just those of his particular religious tradition," the board stated. "Leading Vacaville together means including your LGBTQ+ family and protecting their civil rights."

Carli told the B.A.R. in a phone call late Tuesday that the city recognized Pride Month based on the separate request of Vacaville City Councilmember Jeanette Wylie, not based on the center's request. The vice mayor signed the proclamation, Carli said, to call attention to the center.

"We wouldn't be having this conversation had I signed it, so for that reason, I chose not to sign it on principle," he said. "Nobody would know any of this."

Carli said the language of the resolution — that June is "a time to recognize, support, include, and safeguard the LGBTQ community" — came out of a City Council meeting earlier this year.

Meanwhile, the Vacaville Reporter, a sister paper of the Times, noted that Carli said he cannot condone the actions of the Solano Pride Center because he alleges it is a religious organization.

The organization has provided classes titled "Biblical Self Defense" and has held tarot card readings at previous Pride events. Carli also noted reservations about gender-affirming care for Trans youth, the paper reported. "It is OK to say I pause to allow for science and medicine and psychology to speak for itself," Carli said, according to the paper.

Carli told the B.A.R. that the center was not acting as a good faith nonprofit because of the tarot card readings and the "Biblical Self Defense" class. "It's not our role in government to be taking sides from a religious perspective," he said.

McGarvey took exception to the idea the center is a religious organization.

"We aren't a religious organization, but a significant number of our clients have experienced religious discrimination, and therefore, religiously motivated trauma," he stated to the B.A.R. "The Biblical Self-Defense course taught by me as the executive director helps members of our community know that there are multiple interpretations of any sacred scripture, and helps them understand that there are historical, valid interpretations of the Hebrew and Greek of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures where our community is found, and the ways they can be read that include us. It's a self-defense class against those groups that continue to teach from the same book, while only sharing it from a Patriarchal, non-welcoming perspective."

McGarvey went on to state that the center accepts and works with people of all religious traditions who accept its mission.

"The common denominator for us are those systems that allow us to be who we are without discrimination or oppression, especially in the public square," McGarvey stated. "We do work with congregations that are Open and Affirming UCC, Reconciling Lutherans and Methodists, More Light Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Dignity and Old Catholic traditions and other Interfaith congregations that are Open and Affirming in celebrating members of our community, as well as the Neo-Pagans and other life philosophies such as Buddhism and Humanism, as well as the many who are of no faith or life philosophy."

Carli, a former police chief of seven years, was elected to a four-year term as Vacaville's mayor in November 2022. He'd been with Vacaville police since 1989.

In 2020, Dixon was the sole city in Solano County not to recognize Pride Month, which celebrates the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall riots as the beginning of the modern LGBTQ rights movement in the United States.

The Solano Pride Celebration was held in Fairfield, the county seat, on June 2.

Updated, 6/5/24: This article has been updated with comments from Mayor John Carli.

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