Arlington has observed Pride Month for years, but opponents want officials to skip the celebration
Marissa Ocampo remembers feeling afraid when her best friend at Nichols Junior High came out to her in seventh grade. Ocampo, who uses she/they pronouns, was scared for her friend but also for herself.
Ocampo recalled her friend's coming out in front of Arlington City Council members Tuesday evening, as dozens of speakers debated whether city council should proclaim June Pride Month to acknowledge the month-long celebration in honor of the 1969 riots at the Stonewall Inn.
"I got back-to-back invitations and said, 'OK, well, this is my city right now, so I've got to jump in," Ocampo said.
Ocampo and others received word that people demanding Arlington stop declaring June Pride Month and asking to remove displays about LGBTQ from local libraries planned on "packing" the council chamber. Members and allies of the LGBTQ community did the same. Some draped pride flags over themselves and the dais and waved rainbow flags and fans during the meeting.
Several speakers during Mayor Jim Ross' first council meeting last June claimed the proclamation forced the entire city to celebrate a community that not all residents embrace. They also raised concerns with the promotion of Pride Month in Arlington Public Library display cases.
Former Mayor Jeff Williams issued Pride Month proclamations in June 2020 and 2021, citing the progress towards equality for the LGBTQ+ community and work to be done in promoting acceptance and tolerance.
Ocampo says the community, especially youths, benefit from affirming messages and acknowledgement.
"Every action that we take to support our youth and our community to help them thrive and know that they are welcome and this is their city too, I want to be on that side of warmth as well," Ocampo said.
Several who spoke against the proclamation said they were members of Stedfast Baptist Church in Hurst, which the Star-Telegram reported was ordered to close after sharing threatening messages against the LGBTQ community. The Southern Poverty Law Center lists the church as an anti-LGBTQ hate group.
Jonathan Shelley, a pastor for Stedfast, called celebrating pride an "abomination." He and other church members advertised a homophobic documentary Shelley directed.
"I don't understand why we'd celebrate what used to be a crime not long ago," Shelley said.
DeeJay Johannessen, CEO of the HELP Center for LGBT Health and Wellness, told council that proclamation opponents wanted leaders to "join them in their belief" that LGBTQ people do not deserve respect or recognition.
"They want to quash any mention of the LGBTQ community that accurately reflects us as active, productive or, heaven forbid, valued members of the Arlington community," he said.
Johannessen accepted last year's Pride Month proclamation and has worked with the city through his organization to improve conditions and recognition for LGBTQ Arlington residents over the past couple years.
Progress made on LGBTQ recognition
The debate Tuesday evening marks the loudest outcry the city has seen about LGBTQ issues, despite city leaders' work in recent years to improve conditions for the community. The discourse comes as local city councils and school boards find themselves in the middle of national political conversations about critical race theory and LGBTQ themes in library books.
The city hit a milestone last November when it achieved a 100 score from the Human Rights Campaign's Municipal Equality Index. The city's score jumped from 63 after council members unanimously passed an anti-discrimination ordinance shielding people from discrimination in housing, access to public services and employment based on protected class status, including sexual orientation and gender identity.
The city also created LGBTQ liaison positions for municipal employees. Mayor Jim Ross also fields committees about issues facing people from marginalized groups, including an LGBTQ committee.
Gina and Tim Woodlee were among the speakers during Ross' inauguration who demanded the city walk back its proclamation. They said last June and again Tuesday that acknowledging the community in display cases and proclamations oppresses heterosexual people who disapprove.
"This is not about hate ... This is about the LGBTQ community taking away our freedom to not have this proclaimed over our city," Gina Woodlee said.
The proclamation was not on Tuesday evening's agenda, meaning council could not address the issue or respond to comments that took up more than an hour of an otherwise short council meeting.
Ross told people at a December ribbon-cutting ceremony for the recently expanded HELP Center that he fielded concerns from last summer's proclamation, but said he disagreed.
"The Arlington you're talking about isn't the Arlington I know," Ross recalled telling them during his December speech.
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