Four Lewis County LGBTQ+ Advocate Sites Vandalized in One Night


Sara Smiley and husband Jason Sawyer own a woodworking shop in downtown Morton where they sell topographic maps and niche furniture. 

Smiley is a board member on the Lewis County Dignity Guild, a nonprofit that hosted this year’s Lewis County Pride event and provides signs frequently seen across the county that read “rural Americans against racism” and Pride flag-colored signs that read “Lewis County Welcomes Everyone.”

Smiley and Sawyer’s shop window is adorned with the signs and Pride flags. Out front, they have a rainbow bench called “The Buddy Bench.” The week of June 13, someone vandalized their window. 

Then, early in the morning on Saturday, June 24, the business was one in a string of four locations significant to the Dignity Guild that were vandalized: four full-sized windows were smashed in. 

At the other three sites, a rainbow-painted fence in Chehalis, “The Friendship Fence,” was splattered with black paint; the organization’s new headquarters in Chehalis near the county courthouse had several windows broken; and a flagpole that hosted a Pride flag was bent and the flag stolen.

“I feel pretty confident this was a hate-inspired crime,” Smiley said.

Sawyer chimed in: “I’m going to say straight-up, this is a hate crime. This was a targeted attack on people who are advocates for LGBTQ and anti-racist people in the area.”

The U.S. Department of Justice website states federally and often on the state level, hate crimes are defined as crimes motivated by bias against the “victim's perceived or actual race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability.”

The department lists vandalism as a common “hate” motivated crime — defining “hate” as not necessarily rage and severe dislike, but as criminal motivation from bias.

Sawyer said there was recent vandalism at a business neighboring theirs in Morton where, according to a police report, the culprit reported “he was mad about the gay stuff.”

Smiley and Sawyer both felt sure the vandalism was because of Smiley’s affiliation with the Dignity Guild.

According to the guild’s President Kyle Wheeler, the timeline of the four locations are sequential, the first was around 1 a.m., the second around 1:30 a.m., the third at about 1:45 a.m., and the shop window in Morton was broken at approximately 2:28 a.m.

Sawyer and Smiley have video footage of the incident from surveillance cameras and said there were two adult men involved in the window-smashing with a third person keeping watch. The Morton Police Department investigated on the day of the incident, and the business owners intend to provide the department their video footage this week, the duo said.

At the time of the event, a Morton police officer did not definitively categorize the investigation as one into a hate crime, Sawyer said, but he was hoping that after a full rundown of that morning’s events, the department may change its mind.

“It needs to be prioritized as a hate crime,” Sawyer said. 

Asked if the vandalism, which began with the bench being spray-painted several months ago, would deter the shopkeepers from placing LGBTQ+ advocate signage in their windows again, Smiley said, “No. We’re not going to stop supporting and advocating for people. We knew this was a risk.”

In a statement, the Dignity Guild wrote, “We will not be intimidated or deterred from our mission or our communities. Law enforcement reports have been filed in all cases.”

Work parties for repairing the various locations have been scheduled. The first, in Morton, was being held at noon on Monday. The Friendship Fence in Chehalis will be repainted by a work party beginning at 8 a.m. on Friday.

The Dignity Guild is accepting donations through its website for the various sites’ repairs. Smiley and Sawyer said they may also open a crowdfunding account in the weeks to come in order to add more security to the business. 

“Our community needs to rally. Morton, those in Chehalis, neighbors and people who are a part of this larger community. I just don’t want us to feel afraid for any of us to have any opinion that we have,” Sawyer said. “We don’t all agree and that’s the beautiful thing.”