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Queer community in Yakima marches past decision to reject Pride proclamation

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Katharine Kimball / Yakima Pride
Katharine Kimball / Yakima Pride

In late May the Yakima City Council rejected a proclamation declaring June as LGBTQ2S+ Pride Month in the city. While the Queer community and the former mayor are disappointed in the decision, out and proud Queer people and their allies nevertheless turned out for Yakima's Pride parade and festival.

"Rejecting the Pride proclamation is being seen as a betrayal [of] a wide swath of our citizenry," Janice Deccio, a current council member and former mayor, told the SGN. "The LGBTQ+ community is an important part of our city, and I want them to know that I understand the importance of recognizing the struggles they've had to face as they strive for equality and equity."

Within the proclamation were mentions of the historic Stonewall riots of 1969, which are a cornerstone of the LGBTQ+ rights movement, and a reminder that equality and progress are accomplished through resilience, determination, and collective action. The proclamation also highlighted how the city sits on the ancestral lands of the Yakima Nation and 14 Confederated Tribes, and it paid respect to the cultural significance of Native American Two-Spirit people, "who have historically occupied a distinct, alternative gender status within their Tribes."

The Yakima City Council held a meeting on May 21, where it approved numerous proclamations, including for Missing and Unidentified Persons Awareness Month. Shortly after Mayor Patricia Byers introduced the Pride proclamation, Councilmember Rick Glenn asked, "Why are we honoring this?"

Councilmember Deccio swiftly motioned to approve the proclamation, and was seconded by Councilmember Danny Herrera. The pair were outvoted 5-2, with Mayor Byers and Councilmembers Glenn, Matt Brown, Leo Roy, and Reedy Berg rejecting the proclamation.

"I'm not going to give a comment to you about that, and I'm in the middle of something," Byers told the SGN when asked about her no vote.

Councilmember Deccio told the SGN that she approved of the Pride proclamation because voting yes was the right thing for the city to do.

"All City of Yakima proclamations are vetted to ensure they meet qualifications before being brought to the council to vote. The same Pride proclamation has been approved by the council since 2016, and I have been happy to read them at Pride events for the last two years as the former mayor," Deccio said. "Our place as councilmembers is not to vote based on personal beliefs but with impartiality."

Joshua Hastings, president of Yakima Pride, issued a statement following the council's decision and said it's not only disappointing but that it's also a "blatant disregard for a significant segment of our community. This decision erodes the very foundation of inclusivity this city claims to uphold."

Hastings reminded the statement's readers that the LGBTQ2S+ community is not invisible, but that they are the community's teachers, firefighters, and small business owners, and that they contribute to the vibrancy and growth of Yakima.

"Yet, by rejecting this proclamation, you've chosen to marginalize us, sending us a message that our voices and experiences don't matter," Hastings said. "The proposed proclamation wasn't just a symbolic gesture; it was a recognition of the ongoing struggles for equality and a celebration of our diverse identities."

Hastings noted how the council's vote disproportionately impacts LGBTQ2S+ youth, who struggle with self-acceptance and societal bias, and it tells them that they're unwelcome, unseen, and unsupported by city leadership.

Yakima Pride demanded that the council reverse its decision and open up dialogue with the Queer community to understand the importance of Pride Month and to collaborate in order to truly celebrate diversity and inclusion for all.

Councilmember Deccio is glad that the Pride parade is going to continue, where thousands of people turn out to celebrate. Deccio said those parades are always joyful, fun events for the entire community.

Yakima Pride held its parade and festival on June 8, marching just one street over from city hall. Attendees brought out a 130-foot Pride flag, and the lively festival was full of entertainment and food.

Yakima Pride told the SGN that it is not taking media requests at this time. Councilmembers Brown, Roy, Glenn, and Berg did not respond to the SGN's numerous requests for comment.