‘Canby, I Love You’ — Transgender Citizens and Allies Speak Out at Canby City Council

Wednesday night, the Canby City Council met for the first time since a decision by Mayor Brian Hodson to deny a proclamation recognizing International Transgender Day of Visibility.

This decision, along with several comments that were made about transgender people at that meeting and a largely coincidental visit by non-binary author Alex Gino on Sunday, created an uproar in Canby over the past couple weeks, one waged primarily on social media, but which nevertheless left many people feeling wounded, angry, bitter and worried about the state of our community.

It was not really surprising then, that the April 3 meeting was packed, or that people who wanted to speak out on the subject had begun lining up over an hour early. Over two dozen residents spoke, which is…not typical for city council meetings, and you’ll hear from most of them in this story.

Personal Experiences

One of the most powerful parts of the meeting was hearing the personal stories directly from the Canby LGBTQ community — possibly for the first time in a setting as public as a Canby City Council meeting.

Amira Stanley, a coordinator for PFLAG Clackamas County and a volunteer committee member for The Living Room, bravely shared about her experience as a lesbian who was married to a transgender man and didn’t know it.

Alicia Owens, also representing The Living Room, read a statement from a transgender youth and lifetime Canby resident who did not feel safe to speak in person.

Aric Goodman became emotional when he described what seemed to him to be a disconnect between the many colorful yard signs you can find throughout town (provided by the Suicide Prevention Task Force) and the decision to deny the proclamation recognizing trans people (a population that has an inordinately high rate of suicide).

Abelle Dowell Roe grew up in Canby, and attended school here until partway through high school. It was hard, they said. They described feeling “extremely alone,” “unseen” and not normal. Their experiences culminated, when they were 15, in them very nearly becoming a part of that sad statistic.

Public Experiences

Retired Canby School District teacher Kathleen Jeskey was one of the first to speak, drawing a comparison between transgender people and another group that was once marginalized and even demonized for the way they were born: lefties.

She also addressed the claim by those who spoke at the previous meeting, that granting the transgender proclamation would be “discriminatory” toward heterosexuals.

Kevin Starrett said he supports parents’ rights to raise their children the way they believe they should. The problem, he says, are that there are no protections for non-trans kids, who might be forced to share public bathrooms and locker rooms with kids or even adults of the opposite sex — but who identify as the same gender.

He had a lot of concerns about showers, specifically.

To be clear, though, no one at the meeting had advocated for a scenario like the one Mr. Starrett described. In fact, several transgender residents of Canby, including Salem Brown, who graduated from Canby High School last year, said their preference would be for private, gender-neutral bathrooms and locker rooms to be available to students who need them.

Think of the Children

Having listened to a lot of the…discussion on social media over the past couple weeks, I do think much of the concern, on all sides, comes down to the children. Not necessarily teenagers, but young children. Alex Gino’s book George is controversial, I believe, not because it’s about a transgender person, but because it’s about a transgender 10-year-old, and it’s intended to be read by children as young as 8 or 9.

How much can a child really know about their gender identity at that age, years before puberty? And is it harmful to allow a child to explore these questions, privately and publicly? Is it harmful not to? I think these questions are at the core of the disagreement, at least here in Canby.

Julie Wills, who has been active in many of the discussions happening online and who founded the Canby Transgender Alliance in the past couple weeks, is the mother of a young transgender child in the Canby School District. She shared terrifying experiences of what life has sometimes been like for them.

Craig Morris told a different story, of how his nephew was abused by a foster family in Detroit — and forced to be transgender even though he was not.

None of the transgender youth who spoke Wednesday night agreed that their identities had been forced on them by their parents.

Canby in the Spotlight

Many folks were there not to speak specifically about the proclamation and the decision to deny it, but rather, the way it was handled, and the ugly aftermath that followed. Diana Cerasin, who is not from Canby, offered the perspective of an outsider looking in.

Sarah Goodman Greiner said she was “disappointed” in Canby, mainly by the comments that had been made at the previous meeting.

Brad Clark, a former pastor, who described himself for much of his life as “conservative in every possible way,” said he came to speak Wednesday because he felt like those who had voiced their views at the last meeting had claimed to speak for all of Canby, and he feels like that isn’t true.

Mercedes Rhoden-Feely, a visiting city councilor from neighboring Aurora, quoted powerfully from Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, who actually delivered a campaign speech in Canby back in April 1968 — less than two months before he was assassinated.

‘I Took an Oath’

Local Marine veteran and advocate Martin Lackner, also the commander of the local VFW Post, said he and a dozen other military veterans had come to the meeting out of concern for a comment someone had made drawing comparisons to Vietnam veterans.

Lackner said he and the veteran community weren’t looking to take a side in the debate, saying they trust the mayor and city council to work together to navigate the situation and do what’s best for the community.

Another veteran, John H. Jones II, also refused to be categorized or marginalized for his political beliefs, but said that none of that changes his commitment to serve and protect all people in this country.

The Mayor Responds

Karen Phillips pointed out how during a difficult time last week, Mayor Hodson had, on his public Facebook page, thanked his supporters for positive reviews they had posted about his leadership, and had asked for more.

But his supporters were there, even in the meeting. Katherine Christiansen said she came for no other reason than to voice her full and whole-hearted support for the mayor and his leadership.

At the end, Mayor Hodson himself spoke, at length, sharing heartfelt remarks without the benefit of a written statement. He spoke compassionately to those who had expressed concerns and pain, assuring them that he was listening and would continue to do so.

He had taken notes throughout the meeting, and said he planned to address a number of concerns that had been expressed with City Administrator Rick Robinson, Police Chief Bret Smith and Canby School District Superintendent Trip Goodall.

As to how to bridge what one resident had called a “clear, clear divide” in our community, he didn’t offer an easy, guaranteed solution. There isn’t one. But he did offer what he believes to be the path forward: continued dialogue and listening, face to face and in person.

To the mayor’s question, Councilor Greg Parker had an answer.

We have done our best to include what we feel to be the most important and representative highlights of this important meeting, but we’re not perfect. If you can, we strongly encourage you to take the time to listen to the full audio from this important conversation, which you can find in our podstream here.

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