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Homer council members boycott meeting over mayor’s ‘Pride Month’ proclamation

  • Author: Renee Gross, KBBI
  • Updated: June 13, 2018
  • Published June 13, 2018

Homer Mayor Bryan Zak recognizes June as Homer Pride Month to a crowd of about 80 residents Monday, June 11, 2018. (Renee Gross / KBBI)

HOMER — The City Council's regular meeting was canceled Monday after three members refused to attend over a mayoral proclamation celebrating the LGBTQ community and declaring June as "Homer Pride Month," KBBI reported.

Despite the pushback, Mayor Bryan Zak read the declaration outside city hall. Other members of the council condemned the three representatives' decision to stay away.

Heath Smith, Tom Stroozas and Shelly Erickson said they pulled out of the meeting not because they take issue with the gay community but because the proclamation is divisive. But Mayor Zak said it was important to recognize the diverse LGBTQ population.

"Businesses, employees, visitors and business owners within in the city of Homer who contribute to the enrichment of our city are a part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community," Zak told the crowd.

City Clerk Melissa Jacobsen said over 170 emails for and against the declaration poured into the clerk's office Monday. Jacobsen said roughly 65 were duplicates from Alaska Right to Life, an Anchorage-based anti-abortion group. A similar number came in supporting Zak's recognition and roughly 45 emails opposed the move.

The three council members who pulled out of the meeting said the proclamation contained remnants of a resolution from 2017 that was the basis for a divisive recall against three council members.

Council member Smith said he didn't attend Monday's meeting to make a statement.

"If we want to talk about true diversity, then we need to take into account the fact that we have a broad and deep base of people within our communities that may not agree with that belief system," Smith said.

Council member Erickson said she heard loud and clear from several constituents who said the proclamation violates their morals.

"The silent people of Homer that have felt marginalized when it comes to social issues because they don't agree with the current trends," Erickson said.

Others on the council, like Rachel Lord, said outside groups like Alaska Right to Life influenced the protesting council members' decision. Lord said she received several emails from groups in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau, among other places.

"We are all representing Homer, and I don't want to speak to (the objecting members') personal beliefs, but they were certainly influenced enough by outside folks to not even come and to kind of sabotage the meeting," Lord said. "I think that that's irresponsible at best."

Council members Caroline Venuti and Donna Aderhold also condemned their protesting peers. Local political group Citizens AKtion Network spoke out against the council members as well, saying the move was a recallable offense. The group did say it had no plans to initiate a recall.

Pat Martin, head of outreach for the nonprofit Alaska Right to Life, said Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic, which helped organize Homer's upcoming pride march this month, was trying to benefit off the proclamation.

"Greater support for gay pride month means greater turnout, greater support for Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic's fundraising event at the end of the gay pride parade," Martin said.

Alaska Right to Life also called the proclamation pro-abortion and anti-family because of its connection to the family planning clinic.

"I have no clue where they feel there's a correlation between abortion and pride," said Catriona Reynolds, executive director of Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic.

Reynolds said the organization offers a multitude of health services, including referrals to providers who provide abortion services.

She added that the fundraiser is aimed at raising money for the clinic and its programming and that it's not specifically related to abortion referral services.

Some council members who refused to attend Monday's meeting said they did take emails from outside the community into account.

Stroozas said he factored comments from both inside and outside of the community into his decision not to attend.

"If someone took the time to send an email that was in a negative tone and obviously they were against the recognition, or they would not have taken the time to do it," Stroozas said.

The city has not rescheduled Monday's meeting. The city council is set to meet again on June 25.

This article has been republished with permission from KBBI.

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