Williams said the proclamation is the same proclamation signed last year by former Mayor John Fretti. Gayle was elected as mayor in November and took office in January 2012.
Williams said she told Mayor Gayle the proclamation states nothing about gay marriage and rather focuses on being against bullying, hate crimes as well as affirming that Valdosta is a welcoming city to all people, including LGBT residents.
“I told him his personal beliefs shouldn’t be part of governing and he said that is what is wrong with government nowadays and he wasn’t having any part of it,” Williams said.
“So I asked him, ‘Do you discriminate against the LGBT citizens living here?’ And he said, ‘If that’s how you interpret it, then yes,'” Williams added.
Despite the mayor refusing to sign the proclamation, there will be a South Georgia Pride, Williams said. South Georgia Pride started as Valdosta Diversity Pride at Valdosta State University in 2008 through the school’s gay-straight alliance. The event became an official nonprofit named South Georgia Pride in 2009, and organizers moved the event to John W. Saunders Park in 2010, with attendance totals last year somewhere between 300 to 400 people.
Williams said she understands discrimination against LGBT people occurs all the time within government and elsewhere. She just was not familiar with seeing it face-to-face with a man who, she said, didn’t even want to shake her hand.
“I know these types of things [proclamations] are at the discretion of the mayor, but I never realized an official would be so blatant. He’s supposed to represent all of the city,” she said. “Well, you live and learn.”
In response to the the mayor’s decision to not sign the proclamation, South Georgia Pride has started a change.org petition urging the mayor to sign the proclamation against “discrimination and hate.”
The proclamation in full that South Georgia Pride sought Mayor Gayle to sign:
IN RECOGNITION of the “SOUTH GEORGIA PRIDE COMMITTEE”
WHEREAS, the South Georgia Pride Committee strives to create a welcoming community for all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression; and
WHEREAS, the South Georgia Pride Committee takes a stand against bullying and hate crimes, and works to educate the community on tolerance for everyone regardless of sexual orientation, race, or religion; and
WHEREAS, the South Georgia Pride Committee works to educate the community on the prevention and spread of HIV/AIDS; and
WHEREAS, gays and transgender citizens contribute to the fabric and expression of diversity within our community; and
WHEREAS, gay and transgender community members work alongside us in our places of employment, and contribute to the success of our employers and businesses; and
WHEREAS, gay and transgender, or questioning students, both actual and perceived, attend our schools and colleges; and
WHEREAS, gay and transgender people donate their time, talent, and labor to community organizations throughout the community; and
WHEREAS, gay and transgender people attend our churches, synagogues, and mosques and express the same full range of faith traditions as other members of the community; and
NOW, THEREFORE, I, John Gayle, Mayor of the City of Valdosta, do hereby proclaim, September 15, 2012, as “SOUTH GEORGIA PRIDE DAY” in Valdosta, Georgia, and 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.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of Valdosta, Georgia to be affixed this day of , 2012.
Photo: Participants in last year’s South Georgia Pride festival. (by Christopher Seely)