by Nathan Boddy
Several dozen people were clustered around the entrance to Hamilton City Hall last Tuesday, June 8th, well before the door was opened for the Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting. The majority of the large turnout was there to voice their opposition to a proposal by area high schoolers and volunteers to paint rainbow crosswalks at a downtown Hamilton intersection in support of “diversity and inclusivity.”
The City Council had requested, on May 25th, that city staff assemble a written policy which could be used to determine any future proposals for painting upon city pavement or asphalt. The week prior, on May 18th, the council had granted a request by Bike/Walk/Bitterroot to redo a series of paintings upon the four crosswalks at the intersection of State and 4th Streets. That proposal, which passed unanimously, had no public opposition at its hearing. The proposal for the rainbow crosswalk, however, brought with it a substantial amount of opposition by area residents. Mayor Dominic Farrenkopf had, at that time, suggested that the council move cautiously, and asked that staff prepare a policy for dealing with future proposals.
Town Planner, Matthew Rohrbach, presented a “Paint the Pavement” policy, tailored to the City of Hamilton. The policy, if adopted, would require applicants to complete a multi-phased application process and provide: design specifics, liability insurance, a maintenance/vandalism plan, and an application fee, among others items. Furthermore, the policy would require that any proposal “must meet at least one of the sub-criteria for Safety Improvement or Community Vitality.” Among the listed possible sub-criteria are: “Enhances existing traffic control,” and “Improves or enhances the vibrancy of Downtown.” To the draft policy, Councilor Kristi Bielski asked that an additional requirement be added showing that any proposal, “must fall under (the) mission statement and vision statement,” of the City of Hamilton.
While the agenda item was the draft policy, public comment was very clearly aimed more at the rainbow crosswalk proposal than the policy itself. Dozens of speakers expressed viewpoints ranging from concerns for public safety, to the perceived violation of their Christian values should the proposal be granted. Some, including Bob Egusquiza, did equate any painting of crosswalks to graffiti, but also added, “This is an agenda, folks, and the agenda goes a lot deeper than a stinking crosswalk! These kids have been coerced, they have been corrupted, they have been coached to want to do this stuff!”
Council members tried to limit comments to the issue of the proposed “Paint the Pavement” policy, but most speakers continued to make their arguments in reference to the proposed rainbow crosswalk. When Town Planner, Matthew Rohrbach, was asked how certain elements within an application package would be interpreted, he responded that it would be up to the discretion of the City Council, a statement which drew mutters and even boos from many in the crowd.
Ultimately, the Council voted to send the policy to a formal City Council meeting for approval with the only change being the inclusion of language that would require applicants to show how their proposal met the mission and vision statements for the City of Hamilton. Those statements are posted below.
The last agenda item for the meeting was intended for public comment on the rainbow crosswalk proposal. Councilor Claire Kemp pointed out that, since no policy had yet been adopted, any discussion for a specific project was essentially a moot point. Nonetheless, speakers were implored to limit their comments to three minutes and the crowd was asked to refrain from verbal outbursts. Most speakers did respect the time limit, but applause and verbal outbursts were common.
The majority of those who spoke were strongly against the rainbow-colored crosswalk. While some of the concern was placed upon traffic safety, many of the comments included religious, moral and social justification for opposing the project. One Hamilton resident stated that putting a rainbow on a city crosswalk would be, “totally unfair and discriminatory” while Terri Jarvis, of Hamilton, suggested that Pro-Life, NRA, and support for Israel should all be considered for future projects if the rainbow crosswalk were acceptable.
Glen Bohlander had concerns about the project as well, citing his Christianity as being at odds with its message, but directed his comments to the individual members of the Council, saying, “I know that the first thing about Christians is that we’re supposed to be Christ-like, and I hope to portray some of that to you folks as well.” He ended by telling the Council that he appreciated them, and that they “have a hard job.” His sentiment was echoed by Robert Malis of Hamilton who spoke loudly on several occasions, urging respect and asking that everyone grant others a chance to be heard. His closing statement was followed by cheers when he suggested, “We’re all Americans! All of us! Why don’t we paint it red, white and blue, people?”
Raena Criner cited Proverb 16:5 (The Lord detests all the proud of heart), and followed by saying that the proposal was “demonic in nature and part of the anti-Christ agenda.” She went on to say that Satan was twisting the rainbow to “symbolize an exalt cry among homosexuals and transgendered persons, both of which are an abomination to God.” James Rummel of Corvallis also took issue with the LGBTQ community, noting, “The homosexual community does not want acceptance. They want celebration. They want us to celebrate them. They want a celebration of life. Acceptance is not good enough for them.”
Letitia Roberts didn’t think the paint should go on a sidewalk or crosswalk due to safety, but she expressed that Christians weren’t supposed to judge, and stated “I don’t remember anywhere in my Bible where is says, ‘Jesus was offended.’ Being offended is a choice.” She also said that she’d prepared for the hearing by reaching out to a man she knows, who is part of the LGBTQ community. She reported being told that he, himself, had come very close to suicide as a young man, until having seen a rainbow-colored flag in a store. Said Roberts, “That little sticker let him know that other people knew he existed, and that he mattered.”
Of the citizens who spoke in favor of the proposal, one was Frances Carrasco, who’d first brought the proposal to the COW two weeks prior. She thanked the Council for their work on the policy, and expressed her disappointment at all the “negative comments.” Said Carrasco, “I thought a project about inclusion would be received really positively.”
Carrasco went on to express her increased dedication to the project by saying, “Seeing all the hateful and harmful words made me more motivated to do this project, because it has given me a taste of what LGBTQ, people of color, disabled people and more, deal with as underrepresented members of Hamilton.” She also stated that, “Many times the city has to pay for the supplies needed, but we have the funds committed.”
Similar comments were made by those in support of the proposal, including Mae Foresta from Stevensville who said, “All this opposition should only further the point that there is a whole community of people here that are unrecognized and don’t feel safe.”
The Hamilton City Council would still have to adopt the draft policy in order for a “Paint the Pavement” project to be reviewed under the new policy, therefore, no decision was made. Each of the Council members thanked the public for their participation. Councilor Robin Pruitt speculated that a crosswalk may not be the answer, but noted how such a large turnout against the proposal might illustrate, “what it might be like to be in the minority in this room and in this community.”
THE MISSION OF THE CITY OF HAMILTON IS TO PROVIDE FOR THE PUBLIC HEALTH AND SAFETY AND PROMOTE THE ECONOMIC PROSPERITY AND ENVIRONMENTAL WELL-BEING OF ITS CITIZENS.
-The City Council adopted the MISSION STATEMENT in February 1993.
HAMILTON WILL REMAIN A FRIENDLY SAFE PLACE THAT VALUES DIVERSITY AND A SPIRIT OF COMMUNITY WHILE CONTINUING TO PRESERVE ITS NATURAL BEAUTY, HISTORY, AND CULTURE.
-The Vision Committee adopted the VISION STATEMENT in July 1994.