by Nathan Boddy
On Tuesday, July 20th, the Hamilton City Council passed, unanimously, a proclamation in support of diversity and inclusion. The proclamation was requested by Councilor Jenny West, following a series of tumultuous public meetings during which the council considered a policy which could have allowed a public display of support for LGBTQ+ and minority community members. Although the policy was never adopted, West specifically asked that some show of support for marginalized communities be made. The proclamation approved on Tuesday night was the result of that request.
A proclamation is largely a ceremonial tool, used to identify topics or individuals of importance to a community. For example, a proclamation might be used to identify a particular month as “Child Abuse Awareness Month,” as was done by Mayor Dominic Farrenkopf in 2018, or to identify academic achievement by high school students. While a proclamation can have additional consequences, such as a proclamation of emergency or special conditions, it is largely used by governments to declare its actions to the public. The focal point of Tuesday’s proclamation was essentially that the council reaffirmed, “values of compassion, inclusion, respect, and dignity,” and that the council urges “all members and residents of our community to treat each other with respect and work together to overcome all expressions of hate.”
Despite the limited impact of such a declaration, dozens of area citizens, many of the same who had spoken out in previous public meetings, lined up to the microphone for a chance to speak against the proposed proclamation. Although public safety was no longer a concern of those who voiced their opposition, fear of limited free speech and thought, as well as Marxism and Communism, seemed to have taken that place.
“All of this sounds like a way to take away my free thought and my free speech,” said Donna Gibney. Her sentiment was echoed by Bob Egusquiza of Hamilton, who said, “I can’t believe that you people have the audacity to think that you would have the power to legislate my morality.” He went on to say, “If you want to cause problems, you pass this proclamation. What you will be doing, you will be making ‘we’ the people very angry. You’ll be making criminals out of honest, Christian people. There will be things found that makes me a criminal.”
Several speakers expressed their concern about Communism, and a changing Bitterroot Valley. Florence resident Kevin Hammonds was visibly upset when he said, “I strongly oppose this schizophrenic, communist drivel. We all know that ‘hate’ is code word for, ‘certain opinions aren’t allowed’.” He explained his background by adding, “I’m a refugee from the People’s Democratic Republic of California. I came here to get away from this stuff! Where else can I go? There is no more Montana to flee to, there is no more Bitterroot Valley to find refuge in. This is it. This is all I’ve got.”
Multiple citizens spoke in support of the proclamation. Several, like Russ Lawrence of Hamilton, also expressed the hope that the City of Hamilton take more concrete steps to assure the inclusion of marginalized groups in the future. Kathy Dexter urged the people in the room to understand that the proclamation was essentially to remind people that being inclusive is a “good thing.” She also pointed out that, despite the Declaration of Independence’s phrase that, “all men are created equal,” the United States has been grappling with the application of that notion for over two hundred years.
During the council’s discussion prior to the vote, Mayor Farrenkopf expressed his concerns about whether the proclamation was complete. During public comment, several speakers had brought up the point that religious affiliation was not listed as one of the categories of diversity. This began a series of points wherein the complexity of including everyone in such a document was discussed. The Mayor said, “Personally, I don’t want to sign this document right now because we missed faith and religion, and I don’t know what else we missed. Part of me feels like we need to look at it a little further.”
The council looked to language from the Fair Housing Act and ultimately chose to include age, faith, religion and disability, before moving forward with the vote. Councilor West said of the proclamation, “It’s not policy, it’s not law. It’s about being a good person, and about being a ‘Good Samaritan.’ Part of the Ten Commandments says, ‘love thy neighbor as thyself.’ That’s exactly what this is. As far as freedom of speech, we’re not disallowing that. We just don’t want people to be hateful to one another.”