Marica Martin, right, enjoying dinner with her partner, Theresa, and Charlie Ramos, the founder of TED G (credit: Marie Cunningham)
Marica Martin is a 46-year-old mother of two. Her daughter and grandchild live down the street from the home she shares with her partner of nine years, Theresa. Living in and working for the city of Visalia, CA, Martin reviews residential, commercial and advertising permits. “People look at me and have no clue,” she says of her sexual orientation.
Visalia is the county seat and largest city in Tulare County, population 426,000. Located about 150 miles north of Los Angeles County, Tulare has the highest annual agricultural revenues in the United States. It is also the county that tallied the highest percentage of pro Proposition 8 ballots in California, with 75.37 percent of its voters favoring the controversial measure.
“I think we thought we were in California and we’d be okay,” Martin said of the popular notion that California is a liberal-leaning, blue state. “I think the gay community didn’t realize what we were up against.”
Martin says anti-Prop 8 supporters were too slow in the battle, while those in support of the measure were more prepared and better organized.
“One thing that was disappointing about the gay community is we did not get our signs until very late in the game,” she said. “People were going to church, as they do here – that’s the big social event, church every Sunday and once or twice during the week – and they were given signs. We were having to buy them, and try to gather them, and do whatever we could to disperse them.” Incidentally, some stole Martin’s sign off her lawn on Halloween night.
In the San Francisco Bay area where she grew up, being homosexual was a “non-issue,” according to Martin. She also spent a few years living in Long Beach, which she describes as a “gay Mecca.” But Visalia?
“This is the Bible Belt of California,” she said. “It’s a very warm and safe place, but as a gay person, once people find that out, many of them, especially the older ones, older than me, almost find it offensive or something.”
Yet hope remains for the gay community when the Prop 8 vote is inevitably confronted again in the near future. Though the county has gone Republican in every presidential election since 1968, Tulare’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgenders and Questioning residents are finding strength in numbers with websites like Queer Visalia and Gay Visalia. There is also the Tuesday Evening Dining Group - TED G for short - which brings members of the Tulare LGBTQ community together for dinner and drinks once a week at local restaurants.
“With the invention of the computer you start meting more gay people online, and you build your own little network community and life moves ahead,” Martin said.