Lewis County commissioners could for the first time formally recognize June as Pride Month. A proposed resolution, introduced Monday by Commissioner Lindsey Pollock, acknowledges the watershed Stonewall Riots, points to the county’s “diverse LGBTQ community” and urges residents to “build a culture of inclusiveness and acceptance.”
But in a vote to add the resolution to Tuesday’s agenda, Commissioner Sean Swope abstained.
The move comes days after remarks by Swope, who questioned whether individuals could “identify” as vaccinated against COVID-19, since “in our society today … if I’m a man I can identify as a woman. Or I can identify as a goat. Or something else.”
The comment sparked outrage among some Lewis County residents. On Facebook, Centralia City Councilor Rebecca Staebler was among dozens of commenters denouncing Swope’s statement, calling it “unacceptable.”
Swope — a first-term commissioner with background as a youth pastor — hasn’t publicly addressed his comments, but said Monday that “in the last five days, I know that the LGBT community is not happy with me.”
“I’ve received death threats, our address has been put online, acts of violence have been spoken to me. Disgusting messages. Probably blocked over 100 people on Facebook that have said just mean vicious things,” he said. “So I think adding my name to it at this point would just cheapen what we’re trying to accomplish here. And I think the best course of action would be for me to abstain.”
Pollock said the threats against Swope are “abhorrent.”
If passed, the document would take the same form as the many symbolic resolutions commissioners regularly pass, including recent proclamations declaring Drug Court Month and Mental Health Awareness Month.
The resolution would also come shortly after the 2020 formation of the Lewis County Lollipop Guild, the nonprofit whose rainbow “Lewis County Welcomes Everyone” signs have popped up in — and been ripped down from — local yards and storefronts. Online, the group has spent June posting videos of its pride flags waving in front of local government buildings.
The county’s Pride Month resolution would give a nod to the historic 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City, a catalyst for the gay rights movement in which LGBTQ New Yorkers rose up against homophobic policing practices. The Stonewall National Monument has since been established.
The resolution calls the days-long protests a “historic turning point,” where citizens fought against “discriminatory criminal laws that have since been declared unconstitutional.”
“Everyone should be able to live without fear of prejudice, discrimnation, violence and hatred based on race, religion, political ideology, gender identity or sexual orientation,” it reads.