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Soiseth: Who I am makes me a better mayor for Turlock
Mayor Gary Soiseth
Turlock Mayor Gary Soiseth - photo by Photo Contributed

I’ve done more than a few things that have scared me throughout my 33 years, the biggest being my time embedded with our troops in Afghanistan. For nearly four years, I had moments of fear, sadness, and anxiety, all of which are to be expected in a war zone. Any concerns about writing this editorial pale in comparison to my worries during that chapter of my life; however, it is not without pause that I take this opportunity to share the full picture of who I am with the Turlock community I love.

Most of you are aware that I’m your mayor, but I’m also a third-generation almond farmer, I’m a Christian, I’m a fiscal conservative, I’m a champion for our refugee and new immigrant populations, I’m determined to fix our failing roads, I’m dedicated to our veterans and active duty residents, I’m an advocate for an inclusive and diverse community, I’m supportive of a strong bond between the city and Stanislaus State, and I’m focused on providing new water resources for future generations. In addition to all of this, I’m also gay.

For years I thought being gay meant I was fatally flawed and I would never be accepted by my friends, family, or community. Initially scared to lose those closest to me, I began intense conversations with family and friends, and I was relieved that they responded with love and acceptance. My relationships are stronger and members of my faith community have reassured me that I am created in the image of God. Frankly, it seems as though my neighbors have cared more about the pothole in front of their house or the quality of their child’s school than the person I’m in a loving relationship with.

Some may ask why I’m now publicly sharing such a private aspect of my life. I chose to speak out today because some seek to hold this fact over my head for political gain, as if being gay is something to be ashamed of. Over the last four years we’ve established a great record of accomplishments in Turlock and that work stands on its own; no whisper campaign should detract from it and now those whispers can stop.

I want to be very clear: I do not live in fear and I do not hide who I am. I’m simply a staunch believer in the conservative value of individual liberty, including the right to personal privacy. However, as the leader of this city, I have felt the need to be open about this aspect of my life so that I can put an end to speculation and remain focused on the substantive issues important to Turlock’s citizens.

I imagine this could have an impact on our city and I hope that it is for the better. It could spark conversations around dinner tables or in donut shops or in houses of worship. Let’s use this as an opportunity for everyone to see that differences don’t have to divide us, they indeed strengthen us.

Each day Turlock’s children encounter neighbors who look different, speak different, or have different beliefs. As adults, we need to set the example of embracing and celebrating these differences, whether we are Christian or Muslim, Indian or Mexican, conservative or liberal, gay or straight. When we take the time to learn about each other, we realize that--no matter our differences--we all share similar goals of health and safety for our families, the American dream of growing business opportunities, and the creation of a better future for the generations that will follow us. Our diversity of opinions and ideas can lead to creative and innovative solutions. Our differences are not a threat to our unity but become the foundation for it.

I am a son, grandson, uncle, and brother while being gay. I continue to be a Christian, a farmer, and your mayor while being gay. Being gay has made me a stronger, more empathetic leader and it’s my hope that you’ll continue to define me by the content of my character and the product of my hard work. I’m proud to call Turlock my home and ask for your support as we work together to ensure that it remains the greatest community in the Valley.