City reacts to Pride proclamation denial

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

Mayor Paul Aziz denied a request to proclaim June as Pride Month, following an April 13 City Council meeting where several members supporting the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) community asked the city to make the proclamation.
Aziz told the Lebanon Local that he loves and has friends within that community. He said he had no problem with what the proclamation does, but he chose to not sign it because he didn’t like to single out particular groups, as it may increase a sense of division.
“I just don’t think we need to lift up one group over another,” he said. “I think dedicating a month to a single group of people is unfair to other groups of people. All it’s going to do is highlight them, and it’s going to make other people angry that aren’t in the LGBTQ.”

HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS express their disappointment on May 11 after Mayor Paul Aziz declined to sign a Pride proclamation.

According to Aziz, representatives of the local LGBTQ community told him they were bullied and harassed and believed that the proclamation would help them feel accepted.
“I disagree,” he said. “I believe they need a resource center or a place that they can go to for help with the bullying. My proclamation wouldn’t help them for anything.”
But he also noted that because of his decision, he too has now found himself the target of bullying and harassment, citing slurs he received from people outside the city.
“I’ve been called a homophobe, I’ve been called a bigot, and it’s the same thing that they’re talking about that they don’t want to happen to them,” he said. “It’s very frustrating because I’m not against any of this. I’m not against their lifestyle, I’m not against their choices. I’m just against having a month set aside for a specific group of people, period, whatever group it is.”
(Aziz attended a “Lebanon Stands with Orlando” candlelight vigil following a June 2016 incident when a man killed 49 people during a shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. That night, he said, “the victims who lost their lives were mostly members of the LGBT community and for some twisted, perverse reason they were targeted in this act of terror. As hard as it has been for the gay community to be accepted by the rest of the world, great strides have been made all across our country. This incident must not deter us from the progress that has been made.”)
Lebanon Downtown Association Main Street Manager Cassie Cruze, who’s involved with the proclamation request, said she does not believe Aziz is homophobic or prejudiced, and found it sad that he would be receiving hate mail. However, she does think his reasoning to deny the proclamation is “a farce,” saying that the City recognizes people who have been marginalized or not recognized, like people with disabilities or older Americans.
The mayor said he’s received at least 74 emails in favor or opposition of his decision. One correspondent told him that the proclamation wasn’t about preventing harassment, but about showing bullied youth that their town accepted them.
“Also, by normalizing pride and the LGBTQ+ community, it teaches kids that it isn’t something abnormal or wrong,” this person wrote. “We need a month because that’s the only month we get to truly feel ourselves represented.”
Others supported the mayor’s position, writing, “Appreciate your stance. Promoting one group over another leads to more division” and “The subject of sexual orientation is not in the purview of the City or its leaders. Law and order, safety and infrastructure [are].”
Former councilor Rebecca Grizzle would agree with that statement if she were still on the council. She too has LGBTQ friends, she said, and she would wholeheartedly support a family-friendly Pride parade, but does not believe she would support the proclamation.
“I don’t think it’s the government’s place to make people feel better,” she said. “I’m with the government to remove emotion out of it. That is a large part of how I govern. Public health and safety; that’s what government should do.”
However, she added, she would want ways (as a councilwoman) to establish support groups for anyone within the LGBTQ population suffering from depression and considering self-harm.

Justin and Flynn Cary, seated, speak to the council as a crowded audience listens behind them.

The council heard many perspectives on the issue at its May 11 meeting.
Justin Cary sat with his son, Flynn Cary, urging the mayor (who was not present due to an accident) to stand with the LGBTQ population as an ally. Flynn said the City seemed ashamed to support it, thus making the City indirectly acting as a bully. He added that many LGBTQ fall into self-harm because of the abuse they experience, and the City’s “exclusion” contributes to the problem.
Seventh-graders Cassidy Sanderson and Star Doughty said they would feel more welcomed and accepted as LGBTQ if the City made the proclamation. Sophomore Zayn Chapman said he’s had slurs hurled at him “more times than I should have to count,” and has felt unsafe since the fourth grade. He believed the proclamation would help educate people.
As for anyone who felt the council had more important things to worry about, Sumayyah Salahuddin simply responded, “I think that it is very much the city council’s job to combat ignorance with acceptance.”
Longtime residents Raleigh Henshaw and Tana Nicholson expressed concern about the division and threats of violence flaring up through news outlets and social media. Henshaw, who said he supported different viewpoints and recognized the LGBTQ position “to a point,” didn’t believe the City should “give every viewpoint its own month.”
Nicholson said she hears that the LGBTQ community is hurt and frustrated, and she didn’t believe anyone should be bullied. However, she was worried by social-media threats directed at the mayor and proponents on both sides of the argument. She urged Police Chief Frank Stevenson to be on high alert to ensure that “our peaceful, friendly, beautiful, not-perfect town is not thrown into chaos from outsiders.”

Members of that audience discuss the issue during a public comment period.

Everyone, she added, needed to “break out of ‘I’m right, you’re wrong,’ and just be human beings, and be kind and respectful.”
June is celebrated as Pride Month in the United States to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall riots that resulted when members of the New York gay community protested violent police raids of gay bars, most notably the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. It was a time when homosexuality was outlawed, but the civil rights and counterculture movements were in full force to revolutionize America’s culture.
The group who asked Aziz to sign a Pride Month proclamation provided a document for him to consider, but he said it was “too activist-focused.” The City instead offered an alternative proclamation encouraging residents to recognize and appreciate the diverse population that makes up “the City that friendliness built,” but the group turned it down. (Read both proclamation proposals at lebanonlocalnews.com/suggested-pride-month-proclamations-denied/)
“That alternative proclamation didn’t recognize the LGBTQ community specifically, and Pride Month is specifically about the LGBTQ community, so it kinda bypassed what we were really trying to work on,” said Tami Cockeram, a supporter of the LGBTQ group who participated in the construction of their proclamation.
Proclamations are public announcements made by municipal governments to honor a special event, raise awareness and celebrate a person or historic milestone. Numerous nationwide observances could potentially be formally recognized by a government, including but not limited to Black History Month, Irish-American Heritage Month, Women’s History Month, Cesar Chavez Day, Transgender Day of Visibility, Confederate History Month, Pan American Week, Juneteenth, Women’s Equality Day, National Hispanic Heritage Month, National Down Syndrome Awareness Month, National Disability Employment Awareness Month and Native American Heritage Day.

PRIDE SUPPORTERS stand outside the Santiam Travel Station during a May 11 City Council meeting while people inside addressed the council regarding Pride Month.

Also, an LGBTQ+ History Month is celebrated in October to recognize the history of gay rights and the contributions of the gay community, while also encouraging openness about being LGBTQ+.
“Proclamations are just a tradition,” Aziz said. “It’s just something that came with the territory when I signed on as mayor, and I just kept going with it.”
When he began serving at the end of 2012, his predecessor had made seven proclamations that year: Lebanon Soup Kitchen Day, Arbor Day, Older Americans Month, Strawberry Festival, National Night Out, Senior Center Month and Extra Mile Day.
Last year, 20 were made at City Council: National Child Abuse Prevention Month, Distracted Driving Awareness Month, National Library Week, Arbor Month, Mental Health Awareness Month, Older Americans Month, National Police Week, Americans with Disabilities Act, Peace Officers Memorial Day, American Legion Poppy Day, Strawberry Festival, Fireworks Safety Awareness Month, National Night Out, Patriot Day, Preparedness Month, Senior Center Month, American Legion Day, Constitution Week, Fire Prevention Week and Extra Mile Day.
Cockeram, who has communicated with the City about the Pride proclamation, said she also sent the mayor a request to sign others for Martin Luther King, Jr. Service Day in January and Universal Human Rights Month in December.
This year Aziz signed the former, which honors King’s legacy of service and encourages citizens to pay tribute to King by participating in community service projects. He did not sign the human rights one, she said. Though Aziz has regularly signed proclamations celebrating older Americans and the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, he has never signed any specific to race, gender or sexual orientation.
The Older Americans Month proclamation calls attention to enriching the lives of older adults through their well-being, and the ADA’s calls attention to the signing of the law that compels municipalities to provide accessibility for those with disabilities.
The mayor told Lebanon Local that, considering the amount of national observations that are out there, the observations become watered-down and less effective because each government – federal, state, county and city – makes proclamations, and they just get “overdone.” At its May 17 meeting, the Linn County Commissioners approved a proclamation for June’s Pride Month.
Following nearly two months of hearing both sides of the issue, and based on the threats he feels, Aziz said he was considering removing proclamations altogether. The City of Lebanon, however, is partially sponsoring a “Family Pride Day” set for Saturday, June 18, at Academy Square and the Lebanon Senior Center by waiving rental fees for both locations. Tourism dollars also help fund the event’s promotion.
But LDA Manager Cassie Cruze still feels that when governments don’t show support through proclamations, it’s allowing people to speak and act in hateful ways.
“The feeling of not having your government behind you is a very scary feeling,” she said.