A decision by Canby Mayor Brian Hodson to decline a proclamation acknowledging International Transgender Day of Visibility erupted at Wednesday night’s City Council meeting.
Residents packed the chambers and several spoke, criticizing Councilor Sarah Spoon for proposing the proclamation (which she had done at the request of several transgender Canby residents) and applauding Hodson’s decision to deny it.
Those who spoke took the opportunity to air their views about the transgender community, including 16-year-old AdriAnne Carlson, who called celebrating transgender people “a form of discrimination against heterosexuals.”
“Canby, as a city, has no right to create a day specifically tailored to encourage the act of pretending to be something you biologically are not,” she added.
Her mother, Stefani Carlson, made it a point to call Sarah out by name.
“Singling out a particular group, in favor of them, is simply discriminatory,” she said. “In essence, you would be saying you favor one group over another, and this is not the job of the City Council.”
But the fact is that every proclamation singles out a particular group, in favor of them. That’s pretty much all that they do. Other proclamations the mayor has brought forward in the past couple years have highlighted manufacturers, Meals on Wheels, window safety, poppies, libraries and barbershop singing.
It was a tense scene. Procedurally, it was confusing and unnecessary. Proclamations, when they are OK’d by the mayor, are read at the beginning of City Council meetings. These comments happened at the tail-end. In other words, the proclamation was already DOA long before AdriAnne, Stefani and another resident, David English, stood up to oppose it. (About a dozen more had signed up to speak, but passed on the opportunity when it was offered.)
Mayor Hodson said that his intention in denying the request was not to deny the safety or security of trans people. He said he believes all people should feel safe and welcome in Canby, and he read a statement to this effect at the beginning of the meeting.
In a follow-up email Thursday, he explained: “The reason I read that statement was because I believe we are a safe and welcoming city to all, and I wanted the meeting to represent that. We need to treat each other with respect and dignity. We have so much going right with our city, and I hope that we can keep it going in that direction.”
He said he believes the sentiments in the proclamation are already codified in a “safe city declaration” the City Council passed in 2016, which contains language to the effect that the city “seeks to foster a culture of mutual understanding and appreciation for the inherent value of all within our community regardless of race, sex, age, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, or other characteristic.” He also expressed, in his email response to Sarah, that he feared the precedent the proclamation might create.
“By doing this proclamation then where does the litany of requests end?” he wrote to Sarah. “I will have proclamation requests to favor all individuals, because setting aside one group based on race, sex, age, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, or other characteristic would be discriminatory. Don’t you agree?”
Sarah said the transgender community in Canby knows about the safe city declaration, but they don’t feel like it includes them, because it doesn’t specifically mention gender identity or expression. She said the proclamation was adapted from similar proclamations in other cities, and that the language used was not political. She also said the approach is very similar to proclamations the city has regularly done in the past, such as ones celebrating Women’s History Month.
She says the proclamation was “really about people, not policy.”
In regard to those who spoke at the meeting, Sarah said that she understands people hold many differing views about transgenderism, transgender rights and other related issues. And she says she supports people’s rights to hold those views and to express them publicly, including at City Council meetings. What was confusing to her was the idea that the proclamation was somehow “discriminatory” toward people who have different views.
“I guess I was a little taken aback that people would think that someone else’s life being acknowledged is an affront to theirs, because we all just kind of walk around in this world together,” she said. “People that I disagree with are not an affront to me, because they every right to live their lives the way that they choose.”
One unanswered question is what prompted the apparently organized demonstration at Wednesday night’s meeting.
Both Sarah and Greg Parker, another councilor who was included on the mayor’s email response in which he declined the proclamation request, said Brian asked them not to tell anybody about his decision. But this isn’t precisely correct. The wording in his email was as follows:
“Finally. I caution how you and Greg handle this email. Should you decide to pass this around, take to social media, and make grand speeches from the dais — this would greatly further impact our recruiting process for the next city manager,” he said. “Your options are only a few and I hope that you take the time to reflect on how best to respond and handle what comes next. If you want to talk further, we can do that.”
Brian admits he was worried that if Sarah or someone else in the community was upset by his decision and, say, came to the City Council meeting to make a big deal about it, it might make the city look bad, at a time when they are trying to find the best possible candidates to replace retiring City Administrator Rick Robinson.
“We are hiring an executive-level position who will be hiring the future staff members that will be shaping our community,” he explained, in a follow-up email to us. “Yes, I am wanting us to be cautious on how we use the dais as a megaphone for our politics and how we use the dais to bully and intimidate.”
Greg said he honored the mayor’s request and “did not talk about it to anyone.” Brian says the public became aware of the proclamation request from Sarah posting about it on Facebook, which she admits to doing. However, she says it was in private Facebook group that’s made up of a few of her friends, and that this was before the mayor declined the request and asked her not to talk about it. Following this email, she says she honored the mayor’s request, and even went back to the people she had previously told to ask for their discretion.
Brian admits that he also told people about it.
“I did share the issue with people in my Bible study group for support, counseling, and prayers for wisdom and discernment,” he said. “That, to me, is not public. I did not ‘rile people up’ to come to the council meeting. That was not organized by me.” (The bold emphasis was in his original email.)
The Carlsons declined to comment for this story.
Full text of the proposed proclamation:
Whereas; we reaffirm our commitment to our statement for a safe community by promoting the full inclusion of transgender residents in our community.
Whereas; the International Transgender Day of Visibility celebrates transgender representation and equality; and
Whereas; we come together as a community to promote visibility and fairness to all people, including our transgender citizens; and
Whereas; we acknowledge the resilience of transgender individuals through history and how they have contributed to the betterment of society and made our American tapestry even more vibrant; and
Whereas; we honor the bravery of the many transgender individuals who live, work, or play in our great city; and
Therefore, Now I, Brian Hodson, Mayor of the City of Canby in the state of Oregon, do hereby declare March 31, 2019, Transgender Day of Visibility in the City of Canby.
Video of the March 20 Canby City Council meeting: (public comments start at 2:05:30 mark)