Saying it was needed to support and safeguard some of the most vulnerable people in our community, members of the Canby Transgender Alliance packed the City Council Chambers Wednesday night to again request a proclamation for International Transgender Day of Visibility (March 31) from Mayor Brian Hodson.
Almost a dozen members — one as young as 9 years old — spoke on behalf of the group, which is dedicated to promoting safe inclusion of transgender people in Canby while fighting to improve local policy and education.
The group’s activities include participating in local events such as the Canby Independence Day Celebration and Light Up the Night, organizing their own events, local advocacy and outreach efforts and supporting trans residents and youth with clothing and other resources.
The group formed last year in the wake of the original proclamation request, which Mayor Hodson denied. This decision reverberated throughout the trans community, and not in a good way, according to CTA member Sarah Rodriguez.
In the first part of her testimony Wednesday night, she suggested that Mayor Hodson’s denial of the proclamation equated to “denying that the trans community existed as a valuable part of our city.” She described the International Day of Visibility as a “worldwide observation for raising awareness of the discrimination that trans people face everyday.”
(“Trans people are like any community, from 4-year-old preschoolers to youth at Canby schools to aging seniors. Trans people work in your grocery store, they deliver your packages, they do your taxes, they care for your parents. Trans people are your neighbors and your coworkers. They live down the street and are members of your family. Trans people practice all faiths, participate in community groups and have backyard barbecues. Trans people are a diverse community, representing all racial, class and ethnic backgrounds. Mayor Hodson, earlier this month at the State of the City address, you stated, ‘The time is coming that we will have to adjust to the new us.’ I say that the time has come that we have to adjust to a new definition of us.”)
The mayor’s denial last year was done privately, but was soon made public by several community members who spoke at the meeting in support of Hodson’s decision. Dozens responded at the following meeting, many of them members or allies of Canby’s LGBTQ community.
The scene was alluded to in comments by another Canby resident, Dah Goodman Greiner, Wednesday night.
(“While you may refuse to acknowledge us, I am here with my own proclamation. Every trans person has value. Our existence will not be erased, and any attempts to silence us will only increase visibility, both of your bigotry, and our resilience. If you think we had a good showing today, just turn us down, and we will spill into the lobby again.”)
Other comments came from a former resident, Joli Shempert, who grew up in the First Baptist Church of Canby and was a student there. She told poignant stories from her adolescence, like the time a “sweet, old lady” in church warned her not to work for Fred Meyer because “they give a lot of money to the homosexuals.”
She claimed she was taught to hate gays in her church community, which in her case, meant being taught “to hate myself.”
(“Transgender people were invisible during that time in my community. They existed, of course. I existed, but you wouldn’t know it. Transgender people hadn’t gained enough notice yet in rural Christendom to be actively, vocally hated. So it took me a long time to figure out who I am, to embrace my own self. And when I think about what a Transgender Day of Visibility could have meant to me back then, the wasted years that it could have saved, you know, it breaks my heart.”)
A transgender proclamation is just a gesture, she admitted, but “not an empty gesture.” It could be “the difference between life and death for an isolated trans person,” she said, and urged Canby to “do better,” and “be better.”
The incident last year revealed deep divides in the normally tight-knit community, and was particularly visible on social media, where the atmosphere became so toxic the mayor addressed it publicly, imploring residents to meet, talk with and listen to one another face to face.
Ultimately, and at the recommendation of a City Council work group, Mayor Hodson made changes to the proclamation practice, a policy over which he has sole discretion. Among those changes, he announced he would no longer consider any proclamations that recognize groups “based on race, sex, gender, age, religion, nation of origin or sexual orientation.”
That would appear to preclude the proclamation the CTA requested Wednesday. But several members, as well as Councilor Sarah Spoon, expressed their disagreement with the mayor’s policy, saying it discriminates against federally protected classes.
Councilor Spoon also thanked the CTA for their group and their work in the community.
(“I want you to know that I’m happy you’re here. And, I personally disagree with the current policy on proclamations. I think it identifies and excludes specifically protected classes. I can’t change that. It’s not in my power. What I can do is keep working on it, and keep working with you. But most importantly, I want you to know that I hear you, I see you, I validate your experience, and I am so, so grateful that you’re my neighbors.”)
Councilor Greg Parker expressed similar sentiments in supporting the group. He said he also disagreed with Mayor Hodson on the point but respects his position and authority.
“If I had the authority as a city council person, individually, to issue a proclamation, I would do it,” he said. “But I don’t.”
Mayor Hodson thanked each speaker and, afterward, expressed how much he appreciated them coming, not just on Wednesday but on previous occasions as well.
“All groups and organizations have always been and always will be welcome at city council meetings,” Mayor Hodson said in a follow-up statement to the Canby Now Podcast. “Everyone is, and has always been, welcome at our meetings and in our town.”
His statement seemed to leave open the possibility of more changes coming to the exercise of proclamations in Canby.
“Decisions I make regarding proclamations are separate from the right to attend and speak at council meetings,” he said. “I continue to evaluate the importance and significance of continuing the mayor’s tradition of proclamations.”