In video from the most recent Porterville City Council meeting the idea of supporting an anti-bullying 'Safe Zone' was brought up as an effort by local school kids. But the feel of the meeting quickly changed with the following exchange.
"I'm against bullying, but I'm getting damn tired of it being used as a mantra for everything, and the ills of the world," said Mayor Cameron Hamilton. "All most people just have to grow a pair, and stick up for them damn selves."
"It's hard to just grow a pair when you're a 10 year old girl," responded Councilwoman Virginia Gurrola.
"Then maybe the other 10 year olds that think they want to stop bullying will stand up for her, instead of a safe zone and a placard and a bunch of training that goes on," Hamilton said in response.
Councilwoman Gurrola proposed city support of 'Safe Zones,' an effort by teen students to designate off-campus locations for kids to get help dealing with bullies after school. But with the Mayor's remarks and those of some council members expressing concern over the group's possible message of 'propaganda' members of Gay Porterville are feeling attacked.
"My feelings were really hurt and I was, essentially shocked by the end of it because it kind of felt like a little bit of a witch hunt, even though that was not the initial intention, from my understanding, of the safe zone project," said Melissa McMurrey of Gay Porterville.
McMurrey thinks the concern is over not wanting to support the gay community since some Safe Zone projects are designed primarily with gay students in mind. But that's not the basis of this project, she says. "It's an opportunity for the community to come together, as a whole, and say that we're not going to take this bullying in our town," she said.
She's not alone in her anger. Barry Caplan is an outspoken supporter of gay rights in the city. He says, "it's just entirely inappropriate and another black eye for the city for the mayor to say something like that."
McMurrey worries if the Safe Zone project is rejected, it'd be a major missed opportunity for teens at risk of being bullied. "Until they, as city leaders, take a stand against this type of behavior it's just going to continue to parade through city council chambers," she said.
Mayor Hamilton is the only person to vote against the item last week. So Safe Zone will be talked about next Tuesday. Action News reached out to the Mayor repeatedly for a comment and did not hear back from him. A few council members declined comment as well.