A Fresno fire investigator is inspecting where the blaze started.

Fresno LGBTQ Community under Siege?

While blogging, former Fresno City Council member Brian Calhoun recently commended fellow Fresnans for their tolerance and not reacting negatively to the Islamic Cultural Center in northeast Fresno (never mind those “paragons of tolerance” Ray Appleton, Alan Autry, Jim Franklin or their callers).

“So, dear reader,” Calhoun wrote, “what can we say about religious tolerance or intolerance in Fresno? I believe that Fresnans can be very proud of themselves. A few years ago, the greater Fresno Muslim community purchased land on Nees Avenue in northeast Fresno to build a mosque and their Islamic Cultural Center. That long stretch of Nees is the home of numerous Christian churches, many with very conservative congregations. Did they oppose the building of the mosque and cultural center? Absolutely not! To the best of my knowledge, there has not been a single negative incident encountered by those practicing their faith at that religious site.”

It’s a shame the same “tolerance” supposedly shown the Islamic center hasn’t been shown to the Fresno queer community.

Since San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom started marrying same-sex couples in 2004, the Fresno community has experienced backlash. It’s taken the form of virulent attacks on local talk radio. It’s taken the form of physical assaults on community members. It’s taken the form of death threats. It’s taken the form of vandals damaging property. And, it’s taken the form of arson, aimed at queer-owned bars and nightclubs.

In the past month or so, since the federal judge’s decision invalidating Proposition 8, the celebration at Fresno City Hall and then the pending appeal in the Ninth Circuit, there’s been a rash of vandalism at all the local queer clubs. Numerous vehicles have been damaged.

Then the fire happened.

Early on September 12, a passerby discovered the wooden fence at The Den on Belmont near Maple ablaze. As firefighters arrived, the blaze spread from the fence into the attic, severely damaging the bar. Fresno fire officials describe the cause of the fire as undetermined and say the cause may never be discovered because the destruction at the point of origin was so complete. Fresno officials, however, say the cause could be arson.

At this time, The Den is unlikely to ever reopen. This adversely affects the people who depend on the bar for their income and the community groups that hold their charitable events there.

Oh yes. The same day as the fire, one of the local marriage equality leaders came home and found a large cross in his front yard.

For those of us who experienced the deliberately set fires at the North Tower Circle, Dance and Déjà Vu in the past, the fire at The Den has ignited old fears. One community member told me he’s hoping we’re not heading into another wave of arson attacks.

Calhoun concluded his blog, posting: “Pat yourself on the back, Fresno. All of you, regardless of your religion (or lack of one), should take pride in not being an ‘anti’ as are some folks in other parts of the country. Thanks.” Wish I could say the same thing about attitudes toward the queer community.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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