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Gil Ramirez, gay Central Valley resident, is a ‘bright flower’ for small town

Gilardo “Gil” Ramirez immigrated to the U.S. more than 20 years ago to escape the constant threat of violence he experienced in Mexico as a gay man. 

But Ramirez didn’t move to a gay mecca.

Gil Ramirez

Ramirez lives in Mendota, an 11,000 population farm labor town that’s 35 miles west of Fresno. In 2010, the city had 11 same-sex married couples or partnerships, according to the U.S. Census.

Ramirez, who’s in his 50s, works in a flower shop and choreographs and teaches dances for quinceañeras.

“I think Mendota needed someone like me,” Ramirez tells the Los Angeles Times.

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Mendota ranking

Earlier this year, Mendota was ranked at the top of the 50 worst places to live in the country. The city earned the title based on its poverty rate, crime rate, median home values, and residents’ educational level.

The list was put together by website 24/7 Wall St.and used data from the 2017 US. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, plus violent and property crime rates from the FBI’s 2017 Uniform Crime Report.

Mendota had a poverty rate of 49.5 percent. The median home value was $139,000, and only 1.8 percent of its adult residents have a bachelor’s degree, according to the list.

Half of the households earn less than $27,000 a year, putting nearly half of its population below the poverty line.

City officials have disputed the ranking, saying the agricultural community has made improvements in the past few years.

‘I’m not scared’

Ramirez is a breath of fresh air for the city. He loves wearing colorful clothes and stands out like “a bright flower walking with sass,” one resident tells the Times.

Pool hall owner Joseph Riofrio said Ramirez is an asset for the city.

“It’s a plus having a person like Gil here in Mendota,” Riofrio tells the Times. “He has ideas and he elevates us. He takes us to another level.”

Ramirez says the men who think they are “macho” are the ones who make rude comments to him. But Ramirez says that he doesn’t stay quiet. He replies to them.

“I learned how to reply here. I’m not scared,” Ramirez tells the publication. “This is California. There’s freedom here.”

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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