Gay Court Ruling and Fresno’s Creative Class

No doubt most MindHubbers — being much better informed than the average citizen — heard last week’s news of California’s gay marriage ban being ruled unconstitutional.

If Richard Florida’s “The Rise of the Creative Class” happens to be right in its tripartite analysis of the keys to creative class success (technology, talent, and tolerance, or "the gay index" as Florida puts it), this pro-equality marriage ruling promises a boon to California’s massive multi-billion dollar creative industries of technology, entertainment and the arts, as well as to tourism.

Unfortunately, Fresno appears yet again poised for last-to-benefit status, its already-besmirched name coming up once more in an unflattering national spotlight, thanks to the public comments of Mayor Autry.

I noticed MindHubbers, who are no doubt familiar with Florida’s influential work, seem to have let the historical moment slip without commentary on what could be a potential upside for Fresno’s own creative class. Florida makes the sound case that a tolerant social climate parallels numerous factors that make a region flourish creatively and financially. So I believe it’s worth noting that the marriage ruling is good for Fresno and the Valley in important ways.

Conversely, Autry’s public stance is bad for business, and his anti-equality crowing on the gay marriage issue has earned Fresno yet more bad press. You might have seen it: In San Francisco, Mayor Gavin Newsom’s first public statement — following the court successfully striking down the ban as unconstitutional on equal protection grounds — was nationally televised. In it, he said the ruling would be good not just for San Francisco, but for San Bernardino, as well as a variety of other Golden State cities, with mention of Fresno being saved dead last on his list, presumably due in his mind to the Valley being the nadir of ignorance and homophobia, and the generally retrograde and hospitable home for hillbillies.


Can someone explain how Autry’s act of deliberately repelling an entire class of technology, entertainment and arts-related businesses and their necessary workforce is a sound strategy for countering our consistent worst-in-the-state poverty, unemployment, and education statistics? Can anyone explain how Fresno came to be the worst possible place for gays and the creative community to locate in the entire state of California, if Newsom’s perceptions hold any water?

Even if the explanations for the above are obvious, I think it’s worth noting when Fresno and the entire Valley take yet another bad hit in the national media. We get enough of those from our bad air quality coverage — more on that from today’s Chronicle, showing the Valley has the worst particle pollution in the state, resulting in a few thousand premature deaths here a year. The promise of premature death must surely exceed open hostility to gays as deterrents, but are either helpful for economic development or education recruiters, the creative class, or anyone else for that matter?

I am going to say it, and this will not be popular, and I don’t care: I am embarrassed.

I am ashamed to live among people seemingly incapable of drawing the simplest parallel between ’50s-era racism (as if that’s over), offering flimsy legal basis for seating some in the front of the bus, and others in the back, who support the treatment of an entire class of citizens who are gay as undeserving of equal treatment under the law.

I am ashamed that the Valley has more in common socially with rural Texas or the deep South, U.S. places where bigotry flourishes, rather than with our own progressive neighbors just north and south of us.

I am embarrassed that non-legal-scholarly people would disrespect the opinion of a conservative California Supreme Court full of smart, accomplished Republican appointees who grasp the need for equal protection, yet the mayors of Fresno and other Valley cities cannot.

But hopefully, this embarrassment will be short-lived, and Fresno’s next mayor and all the next generation of Valley leaders will welcome and affirm workers of diverse backgrounds in hopes of attracting business of all types. That would be very, very good for the Valley.

As for those toxic particles in the air, perhaps they have some use after all: The main opposition to gay marriage remains among the old, the last gasp of majority intolerance among those who are not long for this world. Younger generations soundly support gay rights in general and gay marriage in particular, and they appear mostly unsusceptible to the irrational public rantings of grandstanding, small-time political figures. The upcoming, more accepting generations will change the Valley’s political complexion in ways that will benefit business and career options, as well as boost our general creative climate and quality of life, provided people let go of their biases.

Sounds far-fetched?

Former Mayor Frank Ivancie of Portland (1980-1984) used to publicly label gays with the epithet "faggatorians." He used the term mostly with impunity. A political figure in that decade — even in a progressive state like Oregon — could still behave that way and get away with it, except that Ivancie was not on the side of history. He was voted out in ’84 for a number of reasons, including that the times were changing even then. (Inconveniently, Frank Ivancie, Jr. came out of the closet while the elder was still in office, his namesake giving him a bit more than just a headache.) Ivancie now lingers in Portlanders’ memories as one of its least popular mayors.

Just this week on Tuesday, Portland elected the nation’s first big-city mayor who happens to be gay, Sam Adams. And it wasn’t even close. He won in a landslide, having run against a prominent and respected figure from the business community. If you were a corporation or creative industry seeking to relocate, would you like Fresno, or Portland? Because guess what: Better-educated workforces are also more tolerant.

So a lot can change in 20 years. In 2028, Autry might just be the Frank Ivancie of Fresno. Come to think of it …. he’s that right now, isn’t he.

But hopefully Fresno won’t be more like Portland or the Bay Area in decades to come. Hopefully it will be a much broader, more developed, more creative and authentic expression of its own tolerant and inclusive selves, more focused on what really matters and on that which we have in common, rather than turning the business community away due to the humiliating and desperate public acts of division and played-out exclusionary devices we’ve been witnessing from our own leaders.

Aaron Collins
©2008  All Rights Reserved
Cross-posted from
(originally published May 24, 2008)


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