Valdosta Mayor John Gayle denied a proclamation request this week for an annual city event celebrating tolerance and acceptance of the region’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
“I felt like if I sign a proclamation, I’m endorsing that lifestyle,” Gayle told The Times Thursday, adding he has friends who are gay but he opposes the lifestyle and cannot sign a proclamation connected to the annual South Georgia Pride Festival.
Each day, the mayor responds to proclamation requests, proclaiming everything from a certain person’s birthday being that person’s day to 50th wedding anniversaries to major events such as fundraisers to battle cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, etc.
South Georgia Pride’s request to recognize its annual event is the first time that Gayle has refused to issue a proclamation.
However, the event has received a proclamation previously, said Raynae Williams, South Georgia Pride’s assistant executive director.
Two years ago, for the first South Georgia Pride Festival, Williams said organizers did not think to even request a proclamation. A request was made last year, when John Fretti served as mayor, and he issued a proclamation proclaiming the event date as South Georgia Pride Day. Williams said she asked Mayor Gayle to sign a proclamation similar to the one approved last year.
The requested proclamation does not include an endorsement of gay marriage nor does it officially endorse the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender lifestyle.
“The proclamation opposes bullying and hate crimes based on sexual orientation,” Williams said. “It says the city recognizes we’re here and we’re part of the community.”
In essence, the submitted proclamation would have noted that the South Georgia Pride Committee:
— seeks a welcome environment for people of all sexual orientations or gender identity/expression;
— takes a stand against bullying and hate crimes and works to educate tolerance for all sexual orientations, races and religions;
— works to educate the community of AIDS/HIV infection and prevention;
— recognizes the contributions of area gay and transgender citizens to the texture and diversity of our community;
— recognizes that gay and transgender citizens work “alongside us in our places of employment, and contribute to the success of our employers and businesses”;
— recognizes that gay, transgender and “questioning students” attend area schools and colleges;
— recognizes that gay and transgender people donate time, talent, labor etc., to community organizations;
— recognizes that gay and transgender people attend area places of worship.
If signed, the proclamation would urge “all citizens to recognize and applaud the numerous contributions of the South Georgia Pride Committee as well as all gay and transgender members of the community.”
By not signing the proclamation, Williams said she worries it sends the wrong message to teens in despair regarding their sexual orientation or identity. She said she also fears it may send the wrong message to people intolerant of others’ differences.
Though he disagrees with the lifestyle, the mayor said no one should feel threatened within Valdosta’s city limits. As for reaction, Gayle said responses are running 10-1 in agreement with his decision.
Williams said she and other South Georgia Pride members feel Valdosta is a far more welcoming place “that embraces everyone no matter their sexual orientation, their race, their sex, or their religious beliefs.
“We believe in and celebrate diversity,” Williams said, then referred to the city’s motto. “Valdosta is a ‘city without limits’ and we believe that all citizens of Valdosta and Lowndes County should be proud of our diverse city.”
The lack of a proclamation will not hinder the South Georgia Pride Festival, Williams said. It is still scheduled for noon-7 p.m., Sept. 15, Saunders Park, off River Street. More information: Visit www.southgapride.org