In California’s Sacramento Valley, the northern part of the great Central Valley, lies the little city of Dixon. With a population of just under 20,000, Dixon in many respects is a typical agricultural community, although its relative proximity to San Francisco, 62 miles away, makes it increasingly an exurban home for workers willing to brave a grueling daily round trip on the freeways.
Dixon is located in Butte County, a “red” area as are most of California’s interior counties; it went for Trump by 48% to Hillary Clinton’s 44%–not nearly as lopsided for Republicans as, for instance, Butte’s next-county neighbor, Glenn, where Trump scored an overwhelming 61.7% of the vote. Democrats trail Republicans in voter registration in Butte County, but only by a relatively modest three percent, which testifies to a certain streak of moderation.
Ted Hickman, 75, is a local Dixon politician, a Republican, who’s been in and out of office since 1968. Since 2014, he’s been on the City Council, and most recently was the city’s vice mayor. He publishes an opinion column, “That’s Life,” on his personal website as well as in Dixon’s local paper, Independent Voice.
This past summer, Hickman posted a column he headlined “Don’t Forget July 1, 2018 Starts SPAM…SPAM…Straight Pride American Month,” which was a celebration of, and call to, the most blatant homophobia. Among its other nuggets:
“[I] support the rights of grown men to wear skin tight short-shorts and go-go boots and don tinker bells…and prance down the streets of San Francisco.”
“Now before anyone gets their pantyhose in a knot, this is not really legally anti anything; instead, it’s pro-family, and proud to be a straight American.”
“We honor our country and our veterans who have made all of this possible (including for the tinker bells) and we can do it with actual real pride, not some put on show just to help our inferior complex ‘show we are different’ type of (crap).”
“We ARE different from them … We work, have families (and babies we make) enjoy and love the company (and marriage) of the opposite sex and don’t flaunt our differences dressing up like faries (sic) and prancing by the thousands in a parade in nearby San Francisco to be televised all over the world…”
There was a lot more along those lines, including this reference to Peter Pan:
“So, right now, if you don’t want any faries (sic) to expire, you can clap your hands. See, I do have a heart, I just can’t type and clap at the same time… so I had to make a hard choice didn’t I?”
In many small cities and towns across rural America, a local politician might have gotten away with this stuff. But Dixon—perhaps due to the arrival of the new workers, who lean liberal or at least libertarian—wasn’t buying it. Intense reaction quickly set in against Hickman. Letters to the editor mounted in opposition:
“Ted’s opinion is absolutely allowed for in this free country, but his use of his title of vice mayor in such an obvious homophobic tirade is nothing short of disgusting,” wrote a woman, in comments that were repeated many times. Residents began putting up yard signs: “We stand with our LGBT neighbors.” Within days, a “Recall Ted Hickman” page went up on Facebook.
Hickman got some support from the usual crowd, Christian “pro-family” individuals and groups, such as “Save California,” which describes itself as a “campaign for children and families.” A rightwing local politician, Dan Grudmann (whose website “Fight the Power” features a photo of Caitlyn Jenner with the caption, “They will start recruiting your child in kindergarten”), told the City Council, “When you break down the family unit, you’re hurting the children and it’s only a matter of time before you produce psychotic broken children, which is the whole idea of the so-called LGBT movement.”
The homophobic right did its best, but to no avail. In the Nov. 6 election, “Dixon voters give antigay councilman the heave-ho,” headlined the San Francisco Chronicle. Hickman got just 27% of the vote in his bid for re-election. (Grudmann, too, lost his bid for the U.S. Senate as an independent candidate.)
The shameful Hickman episode gave Dixon a black eye; a Planning Commissioner was quoted in the Chronicle article as saying, “A lot of people felt Dixon was being mischaracterized.” But with the election now more than three weeks in the past, “Dixon is recovering from a gay-bashing controversy,” writes a reporter for (of all places) the local Fox News affiliate. She quoted a woman who was one of the creators of the anti-Hickman Facebook page: “Dixon is moving forward. Hickman’s loss proves that. It’s time for Dixon to unite and rebuild the wonderful sense of community that makes us love the town.”
It’s too much to hope that the millions of homophobic people, most of whom call themselves “Christian,” will learn any lessons from Dixon’s experience. Obviously, LGBTQ rights are now firmly established in the United States of America. Obviously, LGBTQ people are not going back into the closet. Obviously, even most Republicans who identify as “conservative” have accepted that LGBTQ rights are supported by the majority of Americans of all political stripes, and that gay-bashing is not the way to win elections.
Still, we’re going to have losers like Hickman and Grudmann around for a long time. They can’t be silenced. But, thanks to good and decent people like the voters of Dixon, they can be marginalized to the point where they’re just pissing on themselves in the wind.