Canby’s first known Pride event was a low-key affair, as families, youth, community members and visitors gathered for a picnic Sunday afternoon to support and celebrate the LGBTQ+ community.
Dubbed “Pride in the Park,” the grassroots event was organized by Kristi Smith, a member and ally of the LGBTQ+ community, and other volunteers.
“We just wanted to get some folks together and have a fun, friendly event,” said Smith, who identifies as queer and uses she/her pronouns. “We’ve got some music, bubbles, chalk and community.”
With no formal program, attendees were free to celebrate in their own ways, like painting or tossing a football around.
The approximately 100 participants also shared cold drinks (Sunday was the hottest of the year so far, with temperatures in the triple digits), miniature pride flags and stickers, and books and resources in support of the LGBTQ+ community.
“It made me incredibly happy and proud of Canby to see so many families come together to break bread, play games, and meet their neighbors,” said City Councilor Sarah Spoon, who attended the event with her family.
“Canby is a beautiful community full of love and kindness. The Pride event was a delightful expression of those Canby characteristics.”
Catherine McMullen, a candidate for Clackamas County clerk, and Raz Mason, the Democratic nominee for Canby’s state Senate district, also joined the festivities.
Canby has a complicated history with the LGBTQ+ community. The town became a battleground in the struggle for same-sex rights in the early to mid-90s, when the right-wing Oregon Citizens Alliance attempted to mobilize support for anti-gay and anti-abortion initiatives across the state.
The OCA and its efforts found a friendly reception in Canby, which Canby Herald editor Tom Lawrence described in a 1993 interview with then-Oregonian reporter Jeff Mapes as a “town of 29 churches and one tavern.”
Several of those churches hosted OCA Chairman Lon Mabon and other representatives in the bitter fight over Ballot Measure 9, which would have amended the Oregon Constitution to recognize homosexual behavior as “abnormal, wrong, unnatural and perverse.”
The initiative failed in the November 1992 general election, with more than 56% of Oregonians opposing it, but it passed in Canby (with 54% of the vote) and other conservative-leaning areas — inspiring the OCA to take the fight to local communities.
Over the next two years, the group introduced more than two dozen local initiatives similar to Measure 9 in cities and counties across Oregon — including Canby, Oregon City and Molalla — almost all of which passed.
Canby was one of the first, with just shy of 56% of voters approving the measure in June 1993. But the campaign split the town nearly in two, sparking the formation of groups for and against the initiative, including Canby Area Citizens For Traditional Values and Canby Neighbors For a Safe Community.
When, later that year, the Oregon Legislature passed a new law prohibiting local governments from enacting anti-LGBT ordinances — effectively superseding Canby’s and other local measures — proponents turned their anger toward Maureen Miltenberger and Joe Driggers, two city councilors who had opposed the initiative.
The two had publicly stated they felt the measure was unconstitutional and even signed onto a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union against the city.
Their stance would eventually be vindicated in the court of public opinion — as well as several actual courts — but it did not save them from recall campaigns that narrowly removed both from office in December 1993. They were the only successful recalls of a sitting local elected official in Canby in at least the past 50 years.
A year and a half later, Driggers ran for — and won — a position on the Canby School Board, where he would serve for eight years. Miltenberger also ran for a different seat in March 1993, but finished third in a five-way race.
Miltenberger eventually moved to Florence on the Oregon coast, where she remains active in local politics, losing a three-person race for the city council in 2018 before winning a seat on the Siuslaw School Board last May.
More recently, the city drew statewide attention in 2019 when Mayor Brian Hodson denied a request for a proclamation recognizing International Transgender Day of Visibility, and several community members — including Canby School Board member Stefani Carlson (who was a candidate at the time) — spoke against it.
The fallout led to the formation of the Canby Transgender Alliance, a group Smith is involved in, which participated in the Portland Pride Parade in 2019.
“I think there was some definite nervous energy on how it was going to be perceived,” Smith said of Sunday’s Pride event. “But I think folks are happy to be together again. [The pandemic] has been a hard time for us, too. Everyone is able to come as they are and be supported. I’ve seen a lot of love here, lots of smiles.”
Those interested in helping plan next year’s event can contact Smith at email@example.com.
Information and local resources for LGBTQ+ youth is available at thelivingroomyouth.org or by contacting PFLAG Clackamas County.
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