A vice mayor who penned a controversial column in which he called gay men "faries" has faced escalating outrage, a planned protest and calls for a recall or resignation in the week since the column was published in the hometown newspaper.
Dixon Vice Mayor Ted Hickman faced near-immediate backlash and outrage among the public and at least one of his fellow city council members in response to the latest edition of his column, "That's Life," published Friday, June 29, in Dixon's Independent Voice newspaper and also posted to his personal website.
A portion of the column contained controversial comments regarding the LGBTQ community, including remarks that gay people have an "inferior complex." The installment of his column also declared July to be "Straight Pride American Month."
"We ARE different from them. … We work, have families, (and babies we make) enjoy and love the company (and marriage) of the opposite sex and don’t flaunt our differences dressing up like faries and prancing by the thousands in a parade," Hickman wrote.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Sacramento Bee
An online Care2 petition seeking a recall of Hickman was about 500 signatures short of its goal of 15,000 early Thursday afternoon.
"Dixon, California's Vice Mayor Ted Hickman fancies himself a comedian. The only problem is he's not funny, he's hateful," the Care2 page begins.
Gay rights advocacy group Equality California, as well as a fast-growing anti-Hickman group on Facebook, have mobilized quickly to call for Hickman's swift resignation or a recall election.
A mother of six who is planning to move to Dixon soon, Heather Eckert, set up the "Recall Ted Hickman" Facebook page with two of her friends. She identified the trio as "past, present and future Dixon residents," with no ties to a formal activist group.
Eckert said a friend brought Hickman's column to her attention the day it was published.
"Look at this. Help," the friend told her, according to Eckert. "This has to get out, people have to know this."
In Dixon, the position of vice mayor rotates among city council members, with the role changing hands every January. Hickman is up for re-election to the council this November.
Eckert notes that in California, a recall election cannot take place less than six months before a regular election. But she did not know that at the time; the page was set up as a "gut-punch reaction" the same night the column was published, she said.
Eckert said she did not want to change the name of a Facebook group that had already gained so much momentum — more than 1,500 followers in less than a week. The Facebook page featured a recent post to the group demanding Hickman's resignation letter instead, on Mayor Thomas Bogue's desk by the end of business Friday.
Dixon's next city council meeting is scheduled for Tuesday. An event invitation on Facebook for a planned protest of that meeting was set up by Eckert. It has garnered more than 150 responses indicating an intent to attend.
Eckert advocates for a "calm protest," with no "screaming" or "chaos."
"Just a quiet message of, 'We want you gone,'" she said.
Hickman stood by his column after its publication and the following outrage, defending it in a phone interview with The Sacramento Bee last weekend as tongue-in-cheek humor.
Multiple attempts by The Bee to reach Hickman since Monday for follow-up comments have been unsuccessful.
Celebrity and LGBTQ rights advocate George Takei on Tuesday shared a link on his Facebook page to a news story about Hickman. Takei is a very active Facebook poster, with more than 10 million followers on the social media platform. His post about Hickman gained thousands of reactions and comments, as well as hundreds of shares, by Thursday morning.
Takei calls Hickman's column "as offensive as it is unfunny."
Equality California, the state's largest nonprofit LGBTQ activist group, on Monday issued a statement calling for Hickman's resignation.
"Despite all the progress we've made, hate and intolerance are alive and well in fringe politicians like Mr. Hickman," Executive Director Rick Zbur said in Equality California's statement.
Councilman Devon Minnema condemned Hickman in a public Facebook post, calling the vice mayor's positions "deeply disturbing" and saying he has spewed "venom" over the years.
By phone on Saturday, Hickman said his personal beliefs are protected by the First Amendment and have not negatively affected his job performance. A few of Hickman's supporters have expressed similar sentiments on social media, but Minnema and many who have petitioned against Hickman spoke negatively of the vice mayor's past.
"He is willing and able to continue to affect an already marginalized population," as long as he remains in office, protest organizer Eckert said.
Hickman told The Bee that he welcomes citizens to take action against him if they feel it is necessary: "They're gonna have a recall motion? Let them do it."