Stonewall forum

Council candidates respond to the LGBT community

City Council candidates, left to right, Rodney Willis, Andrew Coolidge, Mayor Scott Gruendl, Forough Molina, Lupe Arim-Law and Vice Mayor Mark Sorensen ready themselves for a night of questions and statements.

City Council candidates, left to right, Rodney Willis, Andrew Coolidge, Mayor Scott Gruendl, Forough Molina, Lupe Arim-Law and Vice Mayor Mark Sorensen ready themselves for a night of questions and statements.

PHOTO by tom gascoyne

“What would you do to make Chico more attractive to LGBT people?” That was the first question asked Monday night (Oct. 6) at a City Council candidates forum hosted by the Chico Stonewall Alliance. The answers, focused on fostering community acceptance and being welcoming to all people and businesses, pretty much defined how each candidate responded for the rest of the evening.

This marked the second election in a row that Chico Stonewall Alliance hosted a City Council candidates forum to address issues reflecting concerns specific to local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens.

Six of the seven candidates running for the three open seats took part in the 90-minute forum. First-time candidate Reanette Fillmer had a scheduling conflict.

Jim Peck, pastor of the Congressional Church, acted as master of ceremonies and explained that the alliance does not endorse any candidate, adding “We do endorse being an informed voter, which is why we are sponsoring this forum.”

Charlie Turner, a professor in the Political Science Department at Chico State, served as the forum moderator, as he had done for Stonewall’s first forum two years ago. The overriding themes were public safety, a more-sensitive police force and eliminating discrimination.

An introductory statement was made by each of the candidates, who were then asked questions from the Stonewall planning team that, according to Peck, dealt with “concerns specific to Chico’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens. Although this community has specific concerns, LGBT citizens share concerns with other Chico citizens regarding the economy, public works, city finances and the like.”

Second-time candidate Andrew Coolidge said attracting LGBT people to town should be no different than attracting “more people in general to Chico… I think everybody in here realizes where we are financially in not necessarily a good place so we need to work on those aspects and we need to get our budget back in order. And we need to get more police on the streets so we can actually patrol and prevent crime, rather than having a rising crime rate.”

Longtime openly gay Mayor Scott Gruendl said the question is, why do people in their 20s and 30s leave town to look for employment?

“What can we be doing to change that?” he asked. He went on to say that he’s been actively involved with a “local team that has completed a tech-development outreach in recruitment and retention—an economic development strategy that has already resulted in some interested parties who want to come here.”

He said while more police are needed, “We have to stay engaged with the department to make sure that there is respect across the board. A lot of times people discriminate and don’t even know they are discriminating.”

Forough Molina, a first-time candidate, said the council should work to make Chico “a more inviting town. Organizations like Stonewall have helped make Chico more inviting and livable,” she said. She said city ordinances eliminating discrimination should be adopted and that the city should work in concert with Chico State and Butte College.

Candidate Lupe Arim-Law, who is also a first timer, said LGBT people “need to feel welcome, they need to feel safe in our community. That is No. 1.”

She said she moved to Chico from the Bay Area, where there is a thriving gay community.

“And it was safe,” she said. “There were issues and we had problems, but the key issue is that people don’t feel discriminated against. We have to work together, town and gown, and provide young people with encouragement.”

Vice Mayor Mark Sorensen said it is important for the entire community to prosper.

“When businesses are welcomed and able to be successful, we’re all successful,” he said. “That’s really the crux of our job as it relates to economic development. It’s to make Chico a friendly place for businesses to come and grow and prosper.”

Candidate Rodney Willis, who ran a decade ago, said it’s important “to embrace the idea that equality does not mean that all people are the same but that they are treated with the same dignity regardless of their differences.”