I am emailing as a concerned citizen of Oregon City. Recently the Newberg School Board voted to ban all signs and symbols (including flags) related to Black Lives Matter and Pride from school grounds and prohibit any staff or teachers from wearing anything related to BLM and Pride. This was quickly rescinded due to community outrage.
An article about this was shared in a large Facebook group supporting the Newberg School Board's actions. Our Oregon City Mayor Rachel Lyles Smith liked and supported this post which supported the actions of the Newberg School Board and called on the Oregon City School Board to take note (assuming to encourage our school board to do the same).
A week later, I saw an article in Oregon City's official newsletter, Trail News, where Mayor Lyles Smith noted that the City Commission's first goal is to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in our community. Supporting the Newberg School Board decision to promote exclusion of two groups, very specifically, seems to me the opposite of being inclusive. Adopting such an exclusionary stance tells people in these groups they are not worthy of being recognized and takes away safety for LGBTQ+ families.
I asked Mayor Lyles Smith about this during a City Commission meeting, and her response was, "It is my personal opinion, and I do believe that city facilities and school grounds should fly the American flag. That is the flag I support. I believe that is the only flag, or the state of Oregon flag, that should be approved."
I don't have an issue with public buildings only flying the American and state flag — that is pretty normal. But the Newberg School District specifically banned any symbols, signs, clothing, etc., for Black Lives Matter and Pride only, thereby signaling out and excluding two groups. There are several reasons Pride symbols in school are very important to the LGBTQ+ community feeling safe, and here are links to two articles talking about the difference a safe environment and supportive educators make to LGBTQ+ youth: glsen.org/sites/default/files/2020-10/NSCS-2019-Executive-Summary-English_1.pdf, thetrevorproject.org/resources/preventing-suicide/facts-about-suicide.
Mayor Lyles Smith skirted answering my question by saying she only supports the American flag. I would not have felt compelled to ask her view if she did not like a very public post supporting Newberg's school decision. Mayor Lyles Smith was not clear if she supports banning all BLM and Pride symbols in our schools and public buildings, and if so why.
While she does not direct the school board, Mayor Lyles Smith is a leader in our city, and her opinions and actions do matter and influence others, as do all the commissioners. As leaders, their direction emboldens people who feel the same. In fact, someone already asked the OC School Board to consider a similar ban at the most recent school board meeting. I would like the Oregon City mayor to be clearer about her views on banning Pride and BLM symbols in our schools and other public buildings. It is important to promoting inclusion in our city.
Mindy Redburn is an Oregon City resident.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.