Community Confronts Mayor Autry


"This individual is willing to say and do almost anything to advance his own opportunistic career."
State Senator Jim Costa wasn’t speaking of Fresno mayor Alan Autry, but he could’ve.

Autry’s blatantly political rally, disguised as a "reaffirmation of traditional vows"ceremony, spun slightly out of control courtesy of State Senator Roy Ashburn.

Autry wound up angry and embarrassed.

Autry, Ashburn and approximately 1500 other Christian fundamentalists were confronted by at least 250 members of Fresno’s gay and straight communities– who were disgusted by what they described as the mayor’s targeting of gays and his misuse of City Hall.

Even before Autry spoke at the rally on August 29th, the contrast between it and a similar event held earlier the same afternoon at a local church was stark.

The City Hall rally had the look and feel of a political event – American flags everywhere and music more suited to the Republican convention – such as the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" or the "Marine Corps Hymn" – than a religious gathering.

In contrast, the inclusive "renewal of vows" earlier that day at Wesley United Methodist Church featured chamber music and homemade salads.

Protestors gathered across P Street from City Hall.

Police presence was generally kept low-keyed. About a dozen officers, including four on horses, were visible along P Street. A reserve squad of about 40 cops were standing by about a block away in the event of any violence.

Several people connected with the City Hall event were seen taking photographs of activists.

One member of the news media was threatened with a horse by police.

News Link columnist Dan Waterhouse was attempting to take photographs when a Fresno police sergeant on horseback ordered him onto the sidewalk. No other news media representatives were ordered off the street.

"I said to her that I was news media, trying to do my job," Waterhouse said. "She then replied, ‘I’m trying to do mine. Don’t make me bump you’ with ‘Tony the Pony’."

Waterhouse said he has filed a complaint with Fresno police.

A protestor carrying a sign saying "Religious Zealots Aren’t Christian" was threatened with arrest when he attempted to enter City Hall grounds.

Activists were loud and on at least two occasions forced anti-gay speakers to literally shout into the microphone to be heard.

People leaving the event had to pass through a gauntlet of demonstrators in order to get to their cars. Many appeared to be very uncomfortable.

Ashburn used Autry’s event to attack Costa, who is his opponent in the race to replace the retiring Cal Dooley in the 20th Congressional District.

Ashburn attacked Costa for his support of the domestic partner law.

Autry apologized immediately at the City Hall event for Ashburn’s remarks.

Autry said the event was "not the forum" and condemned Ashburn’s comments. Autry admitted he is fully accountable for whatever happened.

Costa told Channel 24 that while he supports the domestic partner laws, he opposes giving full legal rights to same-sex couples.

At least 300 people––gay and straight––joined the Wesley celebration on the church’s tree-shaded patio.

The Rev. Bryan Jessup of the Universalist Unitarian Church led clergy representing all faiths in welcoming celebrants.

"On behalf of all the open and affirming congregations in the Fresno area, we welcome you," Jessup remarked. "We celebrate that we are all here to honor what really matters."

Larry Patten of Wesley remarked that "vows are about love, not arrangement, gender or exchange of property."

At the end of the brief presentation, all who wished to joined hands in a "simple renewal of vows," and then were invited to enjoy the cake and salads.

On the preceding Friday, Marriage Equality California Fresno chapter co-heads Baltimore Gonzalez and Robert Flanagan, and Waterhouse discussed the mayor’’s and Wesley events on the "Street Heat" radio show.

Gonzalez pointed out that with all the problems confronting the City of Fresno–violent crime on the increase and an economy that’s struggling––the mayor shouldn’t be delving into the marriage issue.

Waterhouse related how Autry had, in his own mind, constructed a "reality" that the glbt community supported what he’s did.

"However, the majority of people (gay and straight) are appalled by what the mayor is up to, so he is characterizing their criticism as ‘‘hate rhetoric’’ –– which is a classic tactic of the Radical Right," Waterhouse commented.

Waterhouse went on to describe Autry’s actions as a "calculated and cynical attempt to further his agenda––which is probably political. The mayor told us on August 9th that he has no further political plans, but I find that statement utterly unbelievable."

Waterhouse’s surmise was supported by Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Matier and Ross reported Autry is likely to run for statewide office.

They also reported on August 29th that Autry has a personal feud with San Francisco Gavin Newsom. Newsom declined to join Autry’s fight against Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s plans to raid local government money to help balance this year’s state budget.

Newsom decided not to get involved in the budget fight because the city is also the County of San Francisco––something Fresno’s mayor was ignorant of.

During the August 9th meeting with Central California Alliance and News Link representatives, Autry repeatedly said, "I want this event to bring the gay and Christian communities closer together. There’s been too much concentration on ‘hate the sin’ and not on ‘love the person’ on the part of the mainstream Christian community––and that has to change."

Charlotte Jenks, the executive director of Central California Pride Network, said she received a phone call from the pastor of People’s Church. She said the pastor told her she would "burn in hell."

Waterhouse pointed out during the "Street Heat" segment that incidents like that put the lie to the mayor’s remarks about bringing the two communities closer.

Gonzalez said that news of the mayor’s rally leaked a few days before Bill McEwen broke the story in his August 5th column in the Fresno Bee. Gonzalez said that both Autry and his aide denied there were plans for a rally. Gonzalez added that Autry said he would never participate in such an event.

"I just wanted to let you know that I have never been so proud of our community!! They figure that we had around 250 LGBT and allied protesters," CCPN’s Jenks said on the Tuesday following Autry’s rally. "I believe we made our voices heard in the only meaningful way politicians understand… potential votes lost. You all were great!!! Thank you for coming out in such large numbers. For those that couldn’t come out, but called to express your support, thank you."

She went on, "I realize, given my job, there is little personal risk to me being identified as a lesbian, but for many of you that came out, it took a tremendous amount of courage for you to appear in the public eye and I honor and cherish your courage. Great job!"

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