The problems plaguing this community are among the most daunting to face any municipality: the city has declared bankruptcy, its schools are in state receivership and a court battle threatens to strip firefighters of expensive salaries and benefits.
But there is concern that, as the city tries to find the way out of this financial abyss, it is falling into another that is perhaps more pernicious — its political system increasingly reflects the influence of evangelical churches. This influence, many say, has been gained by condoning intolerance of the city’s growing gay community.
“There’s definitely a disconnect between the faith community and the gay community,” said Marc Garman, editor of The Vallejo Independent Bulletin, an online town crier.
There has been a gay migration to Vallejo from San Francisco in the past decade, lured by inexpensive home ownership and opulent Victorians ripe for renovation. The newcomers found tolerance here, but now there are signs of a push back.
Earlier this year, the Vallejo school district settled a lawsuit after an openly gay high school student said she was harassed by staff and told she was going “to hell.” She was awarded $25,000, and schools were forced to adopt antidiscrimination policies.
Gay candidates for public office say they have been singled out for defeat by a coalition of local churches calling itself the “faith community.” In 2007 and 2009 the group hosted “faith forums” that included gay candidates, but not in other contests.
An openly gay priest who was a school board candidate, the Rev. Lou Bordisso, said he heard murmurs and laughter at a forum this fall. A moderator asked if he wanted to put a gay and lesbian curriculum in schools. Father Bordisso is an auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of California in the American Catholic Church (a sect not under Vatican control). “They have a hidden agenda to impose their particular version of Christianity on the citizens of Vallejo,” he said.
Comments posted on Mr. Garman’s Web site described the forum as “homophobic” and “horrid.” An openly gay mayoral candidate, Gary Cloutier, attended such a forum in 2007. Mr. Cloutier said introductions referred to him as “a gay.” Then, he said, “I was asked if I would bring the Folsom Street Fair to Vallejo.” The question referred to San Francisco’s notorious public display of sexuality.
Mr. Cloutier said the political climate changed six years ago when he was serving as a member of the City Council. Evangelicals began forming prayer circles outside the Council chambers. “ I was disturbed because they called America a Christian nation,” he said.
Both men eventually lost their races. Mr. Cloutier was defeated — by only two votes — by Osby Davis, a devout Assemblies of God follower. “I don’t know what the fear is about considering Vallejo as a city of God,” Mayor Davis said. If believed, he said, “that God created heaven and earth and everything that’s in it, and that God is sovereign, then you believe that he is already a part of this community and this is already his city; and so what’s the big deal?”
Mr. Davis thought the question asked about the Folsom Street Fair was “really, really unfair.” But his faith does inform the way he sees gay people. “They’re committing sin and that sin will keep them out of heaven,” he said. “But you don’t hate the person. You hate the sin that they commit.”
Told his outspoken religious passion might rattle some, he said: “That means that they have a problem, and not me. I’m just as passionate about my faith as someone is about the Oakland Raiders football team. No one says a word when someone rides down the street with their body all painted up yelling, ‘Go Raiders!’ If I start yelling, ‘Go Jesus! Praise God!’ someone gets upset.”
Stephanie Gomes, a City Council member, has “a very strong feeling about the separation of church and state.” Her recent, successful campaign focused on economic problems. Ms. Gomes is concerned about the political tone. “We became so diverse,” she said, “and I wonder if some people felt threatened by that.”