Last Monday, July 22, I was as angry as I've ever been at a decision by the Salem City Council. With the passage of two days, I'm even more convinced that what six of seven councilors in attendance at the meeting did was wrong.
And not just a little bit wrong. A lot wrong. Hugely wrong. Stupendously wrong.
Please, scroll down and watch the four videos I made of the people who testified in person during the 3-minute public comment period, arguing against the really bad idea of temporarily housing the Salem Public Library in a building owned by the Salem Alliance Church -- which denies LGBTQ rights with fundamentalist religious relish.
I was almost moved to tears by the testimony of three people who are either past or present members of the Salem Human Rights Commission, which unanimously voted to oppose the City of Salem bestowing hundreds of thousands of dollars upon the Salem Alliance Church to lease the old Capital Press building. (I also testified.)
But not one city councilor, nor the Mayor, asked any questions of these supporters of LGBTQ rights. Neither did any councilor, nor the Mayor, express one word of sympathy, understanding, or compassion to these people, who said that they wouldn't be able to use the library if it was located in a building owned by an organization that denies basic human rights.
Instead, the Mayor and city councilors sat there like uncaring stones, seemingly unmoved by the heartfelt testimony of David Rollings, Tricarico Schwarz, Cary Renfro, and myself. I read statements from three of the 285 people who have signed the "Stand Up for LGBTQ Rights in Salem!" petition that I started.
I'll share those statements after the videos.
What further griped me about the 6-1 City Council vote is that both the Mayor and city councilors failed to ask City officials about their highly dubious assertion that in a city of over 160,000, there isn't a single alternative location with around 16,000 square feet available for a two-year lease to temporarily house the library.
As I said in my testimony, when I asked a commercial realtor about this, they almost laughed before responding, "Of course there are other locations. They just might cost more than the Capital Press building."
So no one on the City Council cared enough about making the temporary library accessible to everybody in the community, including members of the LGBTQ communities, to ask any questions of staff about how much extra it would cost to lease a building other than the church-owned building.
I was angry when I wrote the following Facebook post immediately after watching the City Council approve the lease with the Salem Alliance Church via CCTV. My feelings haven't changed.
I'm particularly disappointed in three progressive councilors (Chris Hoy, Cara Kaser, and Matt Ausec) joining forces with the three most conservative councilors (Jim Lewis, Brad Nanke, and Mayor Chuck Bennett) to deny LGBTQ rights in Salem.
Again, more important than my words is the following video testimony of the three past and present members of the Salem Human Rights Commission.
It's galling that the Library Renovation Subcommittee of the City Council decided to ask the Commission to weigh in on this issue, then the City Council totally ignored the Commission's strong statement rejecting the church-owned building, which called for an alternative location to be chosen even it it cost more and was less efficient operationally.
Here's my Monday night Facebook post.
LGBTQ rights just got trashed by the Salem City Council. After hearing from numerous people in our city's LGBTQ communities that they wouldn't use a temporary library if it was housed in the Capital Press building owned by the Salem Alliance Church, which rejects same sex marriage and views same sex-sex as a sin, I'm pretty sure nearly every councilor just said in effect, "Deal with it, LGBTQ people."
UPDATE: Jackie Leung let me know that she voted "No" via her speakerphone connection. I've updated this post accordingly. Thanks, Jackie.
So Mayor Bennett, and councilors Chris Hoy, Jim Lewis, Brad Nanke, Cara Kaser, and Matt Ausec just joined the Human Rights Hall of Shame. I'm especially disgusted at how our supposedly progressive councilors voted. Jackie Leung was the exception, since she voted No. (Councilors Tom Andersen and Sally Cook were excused from the meeting.)
I plan to make a video of the heartfelt testimony from three members of the LGBTQ communities who spoke about how bad it would be if the City of Salem rewarded the Salem Alliance Church's bigotry with a big fat lease contract.
This has woken me up to something I've been reluctant to admit. The progressive majority on the City Council is that in name only. When push comes to shove, when they're forced to take a moral stand, too often too many of them take the easy way out.
I'm disgusted at Hoy, Kaser, and Ausec. This is a sad moment for human rights in Salem. When you see the video of the people testifying who GENUINELY stand up for human rights, you'll understand what I mean.
"If the Salem Alliance Church wants to be against same sex marriage then so be it. However, our tax dollars should not go to this church. The city would be funding their anti LGBTQ views. NO, NO, NO to this location being the temporary home of the Salem Library. Why should my tax dollars go to an organization who believes my marriage is wrong and immoral??? My family will stop using the library if the city insists on housing the library on the property of this homophobic organization.”
"The discriminatory practices of Salem Alliance Church and harmful, derogatory beliefs held by the pastor directly affect the lives of myself and my loved ones in negative ways. While I support the missions of Broadway on a broader spectrum, I do not want to support city money going towards the Salem Alliance Church.”
"The city should not house any public and publicly funded operations in private holdings, especially ecclesiastical holdings, even temporarily. The particular church in question, while doing many things that do serve the community at large, is anti LGBTQ+ in it's practices. Housing the library in a building owned by a church that gives to the community with one hand while actively preaching against the equality of specific members of that community will make those members of the community hesitate to use library services for the duration of the situation. There are many large, empty buildings in Salem, surely one can be found for a reasonable price that doesn't belong to a discriminatory entity."
UPDATE: It occurred to me that while this subject is serious, there's room for some Onion'esque humor in how City officials and the City Council have managed to take what should have been a routine task of finding a widely acceptable temporary home for the public library while renovations are being made to the Civic Center building, and turned it into a freaking human rights nightmare.
City officials in Salem choose gay-hating church to house public library, tell LGBTQ people to head to Portland or Eugene if they want to read books during next two years
SALEM, OREGON -- Last Monday the Salem City Council voted 6-1 to pay the Salem Alliance Church for use of a building the church owns as a temporary public library, ignoring pleas from members of the LGBTQ community.
"We won't use the library if it is in a building owned by a church that considers us second-class citizens," said one exceedingly gay person wearing a purple blazer and a perfectly matching tie who testified at the council meeting, wiping away tears as they spoke.
City officials came in for criticism after claiming that in Oregon's capital city, which has a popularion of over 160,000, there were no other buildings available to lease with 16,000 square feet of empty space.
When asked to comment on this claim, a commercial realtor in Salem fell to the ground laughing uproariously for a full five minutes, then said, "Great joke! You're kidding me, right?"
A spokesman for the City of Salem issued this statement at a news conference where reporters asked how anyone could think it was a good idea to house the public library in the most un-gay-friendly building in the city.
"Hey, this is Salem. We aren't exactly known for being cutting-edge in anything, including human rights. Anyone who lives here and is lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, or whatever the heck 'Q' stands for, should understand that Portland and Eugene are the LGBTQ hot spots in western Oregon.
They've got public libraries that would be glad to check out books to members of our community who have the unreasonable expectation of using a library building that isn't owned by a homophobic organization. Just an hour's drive away, assuming you don't hit a traffic jam, which, in the case of Portland, is pretty much anytime. Suck it up, gay people."