A pastor from a nondenominational Christian church in Mokelumne Hill who has criticized homosexuality from his pulpit and alienated members of the LGBT community in social media posts was recently appointed to the Calaveras County planning commission.
Trent Fiorino, senior pastor at Mokelumne Hill Community Church, nominated by Gary Tofanelli, the elected supervisor for District 1, took part in his first planning commission meeting on Thursday, two days after the Board of Supervisors in Calaveras County approved Fiorino’s appointment on a 3-2 vote.
Individuals who identify themselves as gay or lesbian, supporters of the LGBT community, and members of the Tri-County LGBT Alliance for Calaveras, Amador and Tuolumne told the Board of Supervisors they were saddened, angered, and disgusted that Fiorino was even being considered for an appointed position in local government before three of the board’s five elected members approved Fiorino’s appointment.
They said Fiorino’s divisive views and rhetoric have no place in government. Fiorino said he has been wrongly accused of making public comments that he believed were private on his Facebook page. He said he has been targeted by lies and exaggerations. He said he did remove a single post from his Facebook page once he realized it was public.
In a video titled “Church & Politics” posted in September 2018 by Mokelumne Hill Community Church, Fiorino says, “Today they’ve tried to take God out of your civil life. It’s happening more and more, and they’ve been pretty successful at it in America, taking God out of the civil aspect of your life, especially the political part of life. But they haven’t stopped there. They’ve also taken God out of the family. They’ve redefined what family is. The Bible defines family, not the world, not man, and not our government. But our government has stepped in. . . . Today the family is defined as any two people that have kids, two men, two women, have kids, that’s family. . . . The Bible says family is a man and a woman they’re raising children, that’s what marriage is.”
More than 35 people, including Fiorino, Fiorino’s wife, and other Fiorino supporters stood to speak to the board over more than 90 minutes Tuesday. Among them was Andrea Vader, a founding member of the Tri-County LGBT Alliance and a member of the LGBTQ+ community, who told the Board of Supervisors she fears that, as a representative of Calaveras County, Fiorino is a major liability and a lawsuit waiting to happen.
Vader said Fiorino two weeks ago stated online, “How is defending God’s word spreading hate, if a pastor speaks out against other sins like adultery, murder, lying he is not accused of hate. Homosexuality is a sin no different from any other.”
Vader said California’s SB396 is a new anti-harassment training requirement and according to California law, management of all organizations must make sure their environments are safe from harassment and discrimination, including coverage of gender identity, gender expression, transgender, sex and sexual orientation. Under the law, sexual orientation is defined as a person’s emotional, romantic or sexual attraction to another person. Types of sexual orientations include, but are not limited to, heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, pansexuality and asexuality.
“In his eyes, in his deeply held religious beliefs, we not only commit sin, we are sin, simply by being who we are,” Vader said. “He has already cast his view of who we are.”
Andi Kinyon told the Board of Supervisors she could not believe they would consider appointing a person who openly and frequently slanders an entire demographic of Calaveras County.
“Speaking out publicly against the LGBTQ communoty is discriminatory on every level,” Kinyon said, “and Calaveras County should be above that.”
Rob Byron of Murphys said it would be an egregious error to consider Fiorino, describing him as “someone who would compare me to someone who molests children, or commits murder, or adultery, or any of the other unforgivable sins. . . . It is a travesty that you guys would get yourselves into bed with someone so, so morally bankrupt.”
Calaveras County resident Sean Lewis told the Board of Supervisors, “It is 2019 and the fact that I have to stand up here and have this issue is disgusting. I am like every other person in this room. There is nothing wrong with me. And we need that wall between church and state. And if this board of supervisors expects me to believe that this man will seperate the two, you’ll have to think that I’m not only gay but dumb as well.”
Several Fiorino supporters pointed out that Fiorino has vocally opposed commercial cannabis cultivation in Calaveras County at previous Board of Supervisors meetings over the past two years. Attempts to smear Fiorino as anti-LGBT, Fiorino supporters said, were coming from pro-cannabis supporters, to stifle Fiorino’s views on cannabis.
Tom Griffing, a former registered cannabis grower and property owner in District 2, said, “Okay, so some of the most outspoken anti-cannabis crusaders in the county have said they think that opposition is about cannabis. I’ll go there. Mr. Fiorino is among those outspoken anti-cannabis crusaders. And you may recall, Supervisor Garamendi, a little sermon on sacrificing our children at the altar of marijuana at your town hall meeting, which illustrates my point. So I have a question, which I don’t probably expect a clear answer to, but, if a person has displayed a clear bias repeatedly and consistently on a particular county policy, and this board has directed staff to come back with an ordinance that is going to cause a spate of zoning changes to be heard by the planning commission, would a person with a clearly articulated bias in advance have to recuse themself from all those hearings? And if so, I just question the utility of appointing someone who would have recuse themself so frequently.”
Before the board voted on Fiorino’s appointment, Tofanelli said two people applied for the vacant planning commission seat, Fiorino and Sharon Romano, who ran against Tofanelli in the 2016 primary. Tofanelli said Romano also signed a petition to recall him last year, that she made disparaging remarks about him, and that she intended to run against him if a recall election was approved by voters. Tofanelli said he hopes Fiorino can keep his beliefs and his previously stated views on cannabis separate from his role on the planning commission.
Tofanelli’s yes vote for Fiorino, along with yes votes from Ben Stopper, District 5, and Dennis Mills, District 4, defeated no votes from Merita Callaway, District 3, and Jack Garamendi, District 2.
In the aftermath of Fiorino’s appointment approval on the split vote, some who opposed the pastor’s new role in local government said they were especially outraged because Wednesday this week was the three-year anniversary of the deadliest attack on the LGBTQ community in history, June 12, 2016, when a gunman entered Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and opened fire, killing 49 people and injuring 53 others.
In a phone interview on Wednesday, the new planning commissioner said he wants “to serve my district to the best of my ability and this is an opportunity to do so. Over the years I’ve challenged people that they need to be more involved in their local government and when this opportunity came up I felt like I shouldn’t pass it up. I felt like I should lead by example. I shouldn’t tell others to get involved and then turn down an opportunity to do so myself.”
Fiorino’s appointment to the Calaveras County planning commission comes three years after Kelly Wooster, the District 4 commissioner, suggested a plan to combat invasive species could encompass “people from Mexico.” The California Latino Legislative Caucus called for Wooster’s removal. Wooster publicly apologized and the Board of Supervisors allowed him to keep his job. He is still the county planning commissioner for District 4.
Contact Guy McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.