Trans people in a small Oregon town have reportedly faced severe backlash after its mayor rejected a proclamation honoring the International Transgender Day of Visibility on March 31.
The controversy began last Wednesday when Sarah Spoon, a city councilor in Canby, Oregon, forwarded to Mayor Brian Hodson a request from members of the local LGBTQ community to recognize the annual event. According to its website, the International Trans Day of Visibility (TDOV) was founded in 2009 to celebrate “the accomplishments and victories of transgender and gender non-conforming people.”
Hodson rejected the petition, saying he already signed an inclusive “safe city declaration” passed by the city council in 2016. While that declaration pledged to further a “culture of mutual understanding and appreciation for the inherent value of all within our community,” it did not mention transgender people.
In an email to Spoon, Hodson further claimed that recognizing a trans-specific holiday would lead to a “litany of requests.”
“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,” he wrote. “Don’t you agree?”
In a Monday evening interview with NewNowNext, Spoon said his reasoning was surprising.
“We hand out proclamations like candy,” she claims. “Hodson claimed he has said ‘no’ to proclamations before. I have no public record of that, and the city recorder said that he hasn’t said ‘no’ in over a year.”
Canby City Recorder Kim Schaefer confirmed to NewNowNext that a proclamation request hadn’t been refused in that time span.
The problems should have ended there. According to Spoon, Hodson requested her “discretion” on the matter, and she agreed that she wouldn’t make an issue of it. But as the podcast and local news outlet Canby Now was first to report, opponents of trans rights showed up to oppose mayoral recognition for trans people at last Wednesday’s city council meeting anyway.
A 16-year-old protester called the already rejected proclamation “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,” said AdriAnne Carlson, who was accompanied by her mother, Stefani.
The teenager’s chaperone agreed.
“Singling out a particular group, in favor of them, is simply discriminatory,” the elder Carlson said. “In essence, you would be saying you favor one group over another, and this is not the job of the City Council.”
The blowback was immediate. Local resident Linda Tate, whose son is bisexual, wore a rainbow-colored “Free Mom Hugs” shirt over the weekend to show support for queer and trans people in Canby who may have been hurt by the sentiments voiced at the city council meeting.
“Many people looked at me in disgust or turned their back on me,” Tate tells NewNowNext. “I knew the bigotry was here, but was shocked at how really bad it is.”
Spoon claims members of Canby’s trans community have approached her since the council meeting to say they no longer feel “safe” in their own city, which is a little over a half-hour’s drive from Portland. Others have reportedly been directly targeted. After a local business owner came out in support of trans rights, Tate says opponents of trans rights threatened to “fire bomb” her store.
“I never would have believed that possible before now,” she claims.
Community members are particularly worried recent backlash against the proclamation will spill over into an upcoming event featuring non-binary writer Alex Gino. Gino, author of the award-winning novel George, will be delivering a lecture and signing books at the Backstop Bar and Grill in Canby on Sunday.
Gino’s novel about a transgender fourth-grade student has already been the subject of scrutiny in the town. The Canby School District weighed banning the book last year when it was included in the Oregon Battle of the Books (OBOB), a optional statewide reading competition. Parents claimed the literature was “too advanced” for students between the third and fifth grades.
Eventually the district opped to pull the book from the competition.
Spoon claims that she’s been “shell-shocked” by the fallout in a town previously described by others as a quiet, Leave It to Beaver-style community.
“Every proclamation is really just the city recognizing that this day exists,” she says. “That’s all it ever is. It’s not asking for any sort of special treatment. It’s asking for recognition. What they’re hearing is the opposite—that they’re not valid, their experience is not valid, and their existence is some sort of affront to other people.”
In response to a request for comment from NewNowNext, Hodson says he’s been “deeply saddened and concerned” following the events of the past week.
“In my experience as mayor for the past eight years, the city of Canby has been a respectful, safe, inviting community,” the mayor claims. “I am distressed that we have a portion of our community that is feeling threatened and unsafe. That is not what Canby stands for. That is not why people choose to make Canby their home.”
Regarding possible threats against members of the community, Hodson says the city will “respond accordingly” if allegations are brought to the attention of authorities.
“I had a conversation with our police department in the last couple of days,” he says. “Reported cases of crimes or disturbances within the LGBTQ community are less than 0.5% in Canby over the last couple of years.”
However, some residents held Hodson directly responsible for the alleged crisis. According to Canby Now, one of the reasons that protesters showed up to last week’s city council meeting is that the mayor—who had told Spoon not to discuss the proclamation—told members of his Bible study group to pray about it.
However, Hodson denies any assertion that he intended to “‘rile people up’ to come to the council meeting.” “That was not organized by me,” he told Canby Now.
Tate believes Hodson should step down so the community can “start to heal.” When NewNowNext asked the mayor about how he responds to calls for his resignation, he claims that is “news” to him and that he has “not heard that from anyone actually.”
Supporters of trans rights say they won’t stop fighting until Canby resembles the inclusive, welcoming town they once called home.
“I had laryngitis tonight, but at least I still have a voice, as weak as it is,” says Tate, had to respond to questions via Facebook Messenger. “Those who are trans have no voice in this town at the moment, so I will use whatever voice I have left to protect and advocate for them. I will never sit down. I will never shut up.”