A Turlock mayoral candidate’s campaign signs were the target of vandalism on Thursday, an incident that is being investigated as a hate crime due to the content of the graffiti.
Turlock resident Sarah Beekman was alerted to the vandalism of a sign in her front yard supporting Gary Soiseth for mayor by someone driving by her house on Thursday morning. Beekman said she was disturbed by the graffiti, which spelled the word “FAG.”
Beekman said she immediately took the sign down and called the Turlock Police Department to report the crime.
“I know Turlock has a zero tolerance for this time of hateful language. I commend the police department for taking it seriously,” she said.
Beekman wasn’t the only Soiseth supporter to wake up Thursday morning to homophobic slurs on their campaign signs. Soiseth said that three other people contacted him about the same type of vandalism to their campaign signs.
“I woke up to quite a few texts messages and Facebook messages alerting me I had quite a few tagging incidents on my campaign signs,” said Soiseth, who is currently seeking a second term in office.
Soiseth said that a group of his supporters went around town and removed the vandalized signs.
“I think it’s a testament to my supporters that they wanted to get them down immediately because they know that’s not what the majority of Turlock stands for,” he said.
In June, Soiseth publicly acknowledged that he is gay. The mayor said that even though he generally believes the details of his personal life don’t belong to anyone other than himself and those he’s chosen to share it with, he felt he had additional responsibilities to talk about this aspect of his life.
“I’m proud of who I am—a Christian, a farmer and a mayor. I also happen to be gay. I felt it was important to be open about the full picture of who I am so that anyone who might be struggling with his or her identity to realize he or she can also realize dreams and live a full, happy life right here in Turlock,” said Soiseth in a June interview with the Journal.
Soiseth said he still believes that Turlock is an inclusive city.
“I’ve received an outpouring of support... Our town is a lot more tolerant, excepting and respectful,” he said.
Brad Bates, one of the candidates challenging Soiseth for his seat this November, stated that his campaign had nothing to do with the vandalism.
“I, and to my knowledge, no one involved in any way with my campaign, has any involvement or awareness of this or these incidents until reading about them on social media,” posted Bates on Soiseth’s campaign Facebook page.
Bates stated that he signed the City of Turlock Voluntary Code of Fair Campaign Practices and follows the provision that says a candidate will “immediately and publicly repudiate in writing … any individual or group … which violate this code."
Beekman said that she does not believe that whoever vandalized the signs speaks for Turlock.
“However, I think it’s a clear reminder that we cannot be complacent in our effort to fight this prejudice. Hatred is learned and it’s something we all need to work on,” she said.