Teresa Sundmark (Photo provided)

Teresa Sundmark (Photo provided)

Canceled meeting highlights importance of Pride MonthCouncil member’s actions had far reaching effects

My daughter called from a rest stop an hour south of Philadelphia last week. She’s just finished her first year as a teacher, and is now moving with her girlfriend to Atlanta where she’ll teach fourth grade in the fall. I’m excited for her. I’m proud, too.

Just a few years ago I was driving her to school and staying in town late for Nutcracker practice. Now she’s off and running, in a serious relationship, with a career of her own.

Because she was on the road when we spoke, our conversation was short. But after we chatted about her dog and their move south, I asked her an important question. She’s always been open about her relationship with her girlfriend, but I’d never asked if I could write about it. When I asked her directly if she minded, she laughed a little.

“I don’t mind. I’m not trying to hide anything,” she said. “Are you writing about the city council?”

Her question surprised me. I didn’t know she still follows the news from home.

“Yes,” I said. “I don’t know what to write, but I feel compelled to write something.”

“You might mention that what happened doesn’t exactly make me want to move back to Homer anytime soon,” she said.

I know the decision made by three of our council members the other night was not meant to be personal, but hearing my daughter say those words hurt. And I think it’s important for Shelly Erickson, Tom Stroozas and Heath Smith to know that.

When they refused to take part in something as simple as a Pride Month recognition, one of Homer’s own was paying attention on the other side of the country, and their actions sent a message to her that was not especially welcoming.

I don’t claim to know what motivated them, but my best guess is that they were afraid. What, besides fear, could have left them feeling like their best option was to create a situation that caused the city council meeting to be canceled?

Are they afraid of the LGBTQ community? If that’s the case, they might do well to get to know some of their constituents, or possibly my daughter. They’ve probably seen her before, dancing in the Homer Nutcracker or singing in the school musical. It’s likely they’ve seen plays she’s directed for Pier One Youth Theatre. If they were to spend a little time with her, they’d see that she’s kind, compassionate and has a great sense of humor. She’s a person most anyone would want in this community.

Are they afraid of those who voted for them? Did the people who falsely conflated Pride with pro-abortion and anti-family sentiments intimidate them? Surely they were not shamed into sabotaging the city council meeting by a bunch of emails from people who misunderstand what Pride is all about.

Maybe they’re afraid of their own discomfort around LGBTQ issues. If so, there are plenty of people who’d be happy to talk to them, or offer them resources so they can learn about others’ lives and experiences.

If I could talk to them, I’d reassure them that they don’t need to fear people who love differently than they do and that nobody is trying to dictate how they configure their own families. I’d argue that secrecy and shame are more harmful to families than love and acceptance.

I’d also encourage them to remember that as city council members, they should try to enhance the quality of life of those who live here. A Pride Month recognition would have caused no harm, and it would have meant a great deal to many.

To lots of people, it probably seems like the world is changing fast, and change can make us uneasy. But LGBTQ folks have been a presence in society throughout history. The level of openness is what’s new, and families, individuals, and communities are better when people don’t feel they have to hide in shame.

Maybe someday we’ll live in a society that doesn’t need Pride marches or rainbow flags, but we’re not there yet. The council members who refused to attend Monday’s meeting made that clear.

If it weren’t for all the outspoken folks and their supporters throughout the years, if not for their brave declarations of love and acceptance, my daughter might not feel as open and trusting with us as she has been. She has nothing to hide, and so she hasn’t hidden an important part of her life from us. And if not for movements like Pride that have emboldened people to be true to themselves, I myself might not be so accepting. Today I am a more empathetic and compassionate person because of people who refused to live in the shadows.

Our actions make a difference. Especially when we’re in the public eye. If anyone on the city council feels that their values are compromised by something as simple as a show of support for the local LGBTQ community, I would suggest that city government is not the best place for them. If they meant no harm, if they regret how they handled themselves last Monday, it’s not too late for an apology.

I’m not angry, and I’m not interested in shaming anyone. All I want is for my daughter to feel that there is a place for her in this community should she ever decide to move back.

Teresa Sundmark has lived in Homer for 24 years. She writes for the blog loftyminded.com.

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