This afternoon I submitted advance testimony to the City Council in support of the Salem Human Rights Commission's rejection of the plan to use a building owned by the LGBTQ-unfriendly Salem Alliance Church as a temporary home for the Salem Public Library.
Yeah, I'm wordy.
But I wanted to cover the arguments in favor of finding another location for a temporary library that wouldn't cause members of the LGBTQ communities in our town to stop going to the library for the 18 months or so it will take for renovations to the library building at the Civic Center to be completed.
I think I make a lot of sense.
But since I'm me, that's to be expected. My favorite part of the testimony didn't come from me. It came from three people who left some passionate reasons for why they signed the "Stand up for LGBTQ rights in Salem!" petition I started five days ago.
I shared those reasons, which wonderfully reflected the Human Rights Commission statement in opposition to leasing the church-owned building. Here's what went off to the City of Salem today. (The formatting is a bit screwed-up due to copy and pasting from my email message.)
Here’s advance testimony for the Library Relocation agenda item that I’ve been told by City staff will be discussed, and possibly acted on, at the July 22 City Council meeting.
City officials want to temporarily house the Salem Public Library in a building owned by a church that rejects gay marriage and considers same-sex sex to be a sin. The Salem Human Rights Commission has taken a stand against this bad plan.Support the Commission and send a message to the City Council in support of LGBTQ rights by signing this petition. There are alternative places to temporarily house the library while renovations are made. On July 22, the City Council likely will discuss this issue.The Human Rights Commission statement said:"The Salem Human Rights Commission (Commission) is deeply concerned about the proposed lease of the property owned by the Salem Alliance Church for the temporary location of the Salem Public Library.The Commission values having a library that they can reasonably expect all persons will access, to be consistent with the purpose and intent of the City's Human Rights Code. The Commission believes that some members of the community, including some in LGBTQ communities, will not be comfortable accessing the space.…The Commission respectfully requests that the City review the available properties for other potential options, and select another location, even if that location is not as ideal in cost or operations.”
"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."
I want to note that one of the petition signers is Jim Scheppke, an avid supporter of the library who worked hard to pass the bond measure that is funding the renovation of the Salem Public Library. He was director of the Library for the State of Oregon for 20 years. Here’s Scheppke’s comment:
"Our library has enough problems as it is. It doesn't need to alienate a significant portion of our community (and for good reason). Take the time to find another site for the temporary library."
Download HRC statement on the Library relocation
The Commission fully understands and supports freedom of religion and expression for all people, including faith based organizations. One of the Commission’s roles is to actively assist persons who experience discrimination based upon religion.
This commitment to freedom of religion, however, does not allow for the Commission to be in support of this business transaction. It is offensive to some members of the Salem community for the City to enter into a contract with, and pay money to, an entity that may be experienced as unwelcoming to members of the LGBTQ community.
The Commission strongly supports and appreciates the mission and programing of the Salem Public Library. The Library plays a critical role in providing a welcoming and supportive environment for all members of the community, particularly members of the community that are vulnerable, our youth, and those of limited means. Locating the Library at the proposed site will result in a Library that some members of the community, not only the LGBTQ, will not be willing to visit, and will negatively impact the Library’s mission.
The Commission has been informed that this location is the only adequate property available for the Library relocation, and that if the City does not use this space, only the west Salem library branch will be open during the renovation.
The Commission respectfully requests that the City review the available properties for other potential options, and select another location, even if that location is not as ideal in cost or operations. In the event that the City must use this location, the Commission recommends that the City Council publicly proclaim the City’s support and adherence to the purpose and intent of the City’s Human Rights Code, particularly as applied to the LGBTQ community, and urge all of the city’s residents to support and encourage a city free of discriminatory barriers. Further, the City should affirm that the City, particularly the Library, is open and welcoming to all members of the Community, and that the City is committed to ensuring that the Library will remain so during its relocation. The Commission and the LGBTQ Task Force is committed to working with the Salem Public Library to develop options to make the Library’s temporary space accessible, welcoming and inclusive to all.
Approved by the Human Rights Commission July 2, 2019
______________________________________ Danielle Meyer, Chair,
on behalf of the Human Rights Commission
"This is a business transaction. The church has a right to work within its rules. Our job here is to find the best facility for the library. And if that means someone won't go to it, so be it."
"I disagree. We have an obligation to make sure we have a space that is open and welcoming to the community. I'm not saying that we shouldn't go there [to the church-owned building]. I'm just saying we have a [Human Rights] Commission. We have a process. If there are things we can do to help mitigate those concerns, I think we should do them."
So given that the Library Renovation Subcommittee of the City Council decided to ask the Human Rights Commission how it felt about use of the church-owned building for a temporary library, and the Commission basically said find another place, even if it costs more and is less efficient, the burden now is on City officials to prove that no other building in Salem exists that has 16,000 square feet or so of available space.
(That’s the size of the Capital Press building.)