Inclusion and Equality: Gems Worth Protecting

By: James O'Hagan

Whether it’s owning a jewelry business that is not afraid to support the LGBTQ+ community or fighting for the civil rights of underrepresented people, Chico residents Bill and Geralyn Sheridan make it clear they both have strong views on the importance of equality for all and supporting the rights of people in the community.

The married couple’s story begins in the Bay Area where they both grew up and began dating after meeting through family friends. Growing up in such a diverse community shaped their beliefs from an early age. It taught them to accept others without judgment and understand the need for equality. Geralyn and Bill moved to Chico together to work in property management for the company SF Invest.

But Geralyn soon discovered that property management was not what she truly wanted to do. She decided to make a change. She took a metalsmithing class at Butte College and eventually graduated from the Gemological Institute of America. With her experience and newfound enthusiasm, Geralyn opened her own jewelry business in Chico, AicoraGems “Jewelry Box” Gallery.

Geralyn has now found her passion. Reveling in manipulating metal and the entire process, she designs custom-made jewelry to create something precious, which is often a unique wedding ring for a soon-to-be-married couple.

“I love doing this,” said Geralyn. “It’s so—it’s surreal. Everybody who comes in is happy and in love and doing something really cool and moving on in their lives. And it’s just really wonderful to be involved in that.”

Sheridans at Jewlery Shop
Bill and Geralyn Sheridan among Geralyn’s unique jewelry designs at AicoraGems “Jewelry Box.”
Geralyn enjoys her role in such a personal part of a couple’s marriage. The idea of not supporting someone who wants to make such a change in their life based on sexual orientation never occurred to Geralyn, who has always been open and inclusive.

When a woman came to AicoraGems inquiring about making a ring for her partner, Geralyn simply saw a woman who loved somebody and wanted to do something special. She assumed that most people would be as accepting and nonjudgmental as she was. Sadly, this is not the case. The woman mentioned other places in town where she had never felt comfortable or welcome, which shocked Geralyn.

“I thought, you’re a customer who’s a good person, trying to do something for someone you care about,” she said. “Why on earth would anybody not be welcoming to that?”

Geralyn shares this strong sense of a need for acceptance and equality with her husband, Bill, who helped found the Chico chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 2008.

The ACLU is a national organization that defends the civil rights granted to individuals by the Constitution, especially to groups who have typically faced oppression or mistreatment.

Bill, along with Pat Donnelly, Leslie Johnson, Robert Trausch, Jessica Allen, and Kelly Meagher, initially decided to create and support a Chico chapter of the ACLU because of their concern about the treatment of youth in Chico.

“We believe that a lot of what happens in downtown Chico with youth is probably improper,” said Bill. “We just didn’t like the way they were treated.”

One controversial issue is how students and youth are treated during holidays such as Halloween, when hundreds of students roam the downtown area. So, the Chico chapter of the ACLU created an Event Watch program for major events. Halloween night ACLU members could be seen wearing custom-designed shirts, patrolling the downtown area to monitor how the police were treating students and to be neutral witnesses to any possible violations of civil rights.

“Some of the students from the University that knew us would come up and say, ‘I have never seen the Chico Police Department being so polite to students, ever,’” said Bill.

The ACLU strives to preserve the rights of not only youth but also of underrepresented groups such as immigrants in California. Bill’s most memorable story of his time working with the ACLU is when the organization set up a meeting in Gridley, California, for people living in the country illegally to discuss the process for becoming citizens or legal residents. With the help of an ACLU board member, immigration specialist attorneys agreed to work with these immigrants pro bono. Members of the ACLU stood guard outside, making sure attendees could arrive and leave safely.

“These people were just unbelievably thankful that anybody would even care about their rights and give them information on what they could do to become either citizens or become legal residents in the United States,” said Bill. “Those seminars were just great.”

Through each of their individual efforts, Bill and Geralyn have shown they care about the treatment of others, and that equality and inclusion are always worth the attention of the community.