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Monday, March 23, 2009

Van Gorder responds, "I understand your anger; hope you will continue coming to Napa"

This email chain came in via the tipline this morning and shows that even if (as some were claiming) Van Gorder's initial resolution was a political stunt (I don't believe it was, I think it was just late timing), that he is doing a good job responding while others remain silent or just plain inconsiderate. As more and more same-sex couple's (and potential tourists) hear of Napa's sad failure to pass the equality resolution, I'm sure it will have an impact on business. Napa can't afford to remain silent:
Dear Vice Mayor Inman:

I was disappointed by your attitude described in the Chronicle. It was reported that you "didn't understand why Holden-Soto was so upset."

(Retrieved 3/22/09 from

Your comments were also disappointing: "If it is important for her to have a getaway in a place that has supported this resolution, then she should find one, and that's where she should go."

Your attitude is lacking in empathy. Imagine a Napa City Councilmember 70 years ago like van Gorder offering a resolution to abhor discrimination against interracial couples. Then imagine the council failing to pass this resolution. Would you have said to the reporter back then in 1939, "Gosh, I don't know why this interracial couple from Modesto is so upset; no other city has passed such a resolution. You know, interracial couples are welcome here. At least 55% of our residents would agree! Really, they would!" How lacking in empathy, courage, and basic financial common sense.

You should have told her, "Ma'am, I wasn't at the meeting; I'm getting over surgery. Napa should have passed the resolution. Just because no other city in your area has passed a similar resolution doesn't let Napa off the hook. Discrimination is wrong. The city council had an easy, an incredibly easy opportunity to stand up against discrimination: it was just a resolution -- no money was involved -- and we failed. We failed. I am sorry. I will introduce a similar resolution soon. I apologize."

Your response lacked:

1. Empathy: The Chronicle says you couldn't understand why Holden-Soto was so upset. I'll try to explain, ma'am. My partner and I would like to get married. We were disappointed in November by the passage of Prop 8.. We are part of a movement to change this. We would like you to join us. Failing that, we would like you to help us. Your comments didn't help us. In fact, your comments hurt our cause. We could have used a few words of encouragement; instead you gave us this: "I do hope that you find a suitable location for your getaway." How cold-hearted. To paraphrase Isaiah 61:3, Holden-Soto was hoping for a garland, but you gave her ashes, as you gave every gay and lesbian couple reading your comments.

2. Courage: it would have taken courage for you to do the right thing and apologize on behalf of the city council. It would have taken courage for the city council to pass this resolution.

3. Basic financial common sense: You and the council blew it! My partner and I are typical of middle-aged gay and lesbian couples: in our mid-40s, professionals, lots of visitors from out of town, no kids, 40 minutes from Napa. Plus we are lucky to have an income totally well over $600,000 per year. We used to bring folks to Napa all the time to go wine tasting, shopping, and to have lunch and/or dinner. We will not be spending a DIME in Napa from now on. I will tell all of my friends to do the same. There are plenty of restaurants, hotels, wineries and shops elsewhere in your area. St. Helena might pass the same kind of resolution that your council voted down. If so, we will go there.

Why even fill our gas tank in Napa when the city council doesn't feel brave enough to pass a resolution denouncing discrimination against us? Perhaps you might remind your fellow council members that Napa is within a short drive of a city visited by a sizable number of gay and lesbian visitors. A simple cost/benefit analysis could have steeled you if the resolution really required such political bravery. This is not my primary argument though. As a Christian I am moved to do the right thing regardless of cost/benefit analysis. I would hope that your faith leads you and your fellow council members to do the same.

I do hope you find a suitable place for reflecting on how you could have helped us. You could have said a few kind words, an apology, something to soften the blow even. I hope you will reflect on how you might answer another person who has been discriminated against if he/she is asking for support in the future. I hope you won't answer, "I do hope that you find a suitable location for your getaway." Instead, you can say, "I am so glad you asked, because I've changed my mind on this issue...."

I hope you continue to recover from your surgery. You will be in my prayers.


Dave Patterson
Mill Valley, California
Instead of silence or cold, pithy, "oh well, hope your vacation goes well in Lake County", he responds with empathy and encouragement:
Dear Dave.

As the person who brought this matter for consideration before Napa City Council, I fully understand your frustration.

I, like you, vote with my dollars and do not support businesses that I know do not match my values and beliefs. I understand why you would want not support a business that does not support basic civil rights and rights to marriage equality. I only ask that you seriously consider that the city council does not speak for all business owners in the city of Napa.

I work in the wine industry. Friends of mine who spoke in favor of the equality resolution, some gay and some not, own and operate businesses here in Napa. Of those who voted in November, 55% opposed Proposition 8. I truly hope you will not view the lack of a city resolution on equality as a statement about our community as a whole.

I understand your anger about the city council decision and hope you will still continue doing business here in Napa. Spending your dollars some place other than Napa will hurt those good people in our community who share your point of view. If they go out of business because people stop coming to Napa, then we will have even less of a voice here for equality when we need more.

Perhaps you will seek out Napa businesses that are supportive of equality for all. Whatever your choice, I hope you will continue coming to Napa. If you do stop coming here and spending your dollars, then I fear our city will have lost much more than we have gained.

Please reconsider and continue visiting Napa and spending your money with supportive businesses. And I pledge to continue fighting for equality. Working together, we can create the change we seek.

Thank you for taking the time to write.

Mark van Gorder, Council member
City of Napa
Now, see, was that so hard, Vice Mayor?

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