Minot, your homophobia is showing

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Perhaps ‘Minot welcomes some‘ would be a more apt sign.

Raising of Pride flag brings out the proudly bigoted

I think in this day and age it can be very tempting to feel that on the whole, issues regarding equality for the LGBTQ+ community are continuing towards progress. But then, in one swift and disheartening evening in Minot, North Dakota, the reality of homophobia in America is once again brought back into focus. This past Tuesday, September eighth, Minot held its biweekly City Council meeting with one issue at the center of its focus: mayor Shaun Sipma’s choice to fly the Pride flag in front of City Hall.

What transpired at Tuesday night’s meeting was an open and public vocalization of ignorance, bigotry and perversion of religion for the sake of discrimination. Several individuals took the time to speak at the meeting to air their ‘grievances’ about the flag’s display and to insist that they were very angry at the decision, but decidedly not homophobic.

Watching the meeting was incredibly difficult and I personally would not recommend it. Individual after individual emboldened by hostility within the Council Chambers addressed the council members with visceral anger. What were they angry about? I’ll break it down so you don’t have to waste your energy listening to these people.

The first and most laughable reason came from Minot resident, Josiah Royce, who said that “The LGBT flag represents the genitals of certain Americans.” In fact, the flag represents pride; namely pride in identity. Sexual orientation is one such identity associated with the Pride flag, something completely different than biological sex (i.e. what determines an individual’s genitals at birth). 

Royce’s doltishness would almost be comical if it weren’t so sad; not just in that his health class failed him so poorly, but also in the fact that his big threat to the mayor would be to not film his idea for a television show in Minot as planned. There are quite a few real celebrities whose careers were ruined by homophobia and I can’t imagine that his stint participating in two American Ninja Warrior qualifiers will be enough to salvage a career out of. 

Another argument made was that the raising of the Pride flag was stripping the individuals of Minot of their freedoms. As Steve Hamilton said, “Hanging [that flag] up is taking my freedom, my free speech away and that’s why I’m here… I can already see our guns coming, it’s coming next.” How the flying of a flag representing individuals within the Minot community is stripping anyone of their freedoms is mind-boggling. 

Flying a flag is a peaceful and passive way of reminding members of the community that they are welcome within Minot; beyond that you just find individuals making themselves mad, or in Hamilton’s case, actually threatening real violence that could infringe on others’ freedoms. Not only is this anti-American, but it’s the adult version of when toddlers throw tantrums when someone eats a food they didn’t even want. Except toddlers hold themselves together better than Steve did, as he eventually stormed out of the meeting yelling unintelligibly. 

The fact that every member of this meeting was able to spew the vile things they did is an example of how intact their freedom of speech is, unfortunate as it may be for those listening to it.

Also brought up was the idea that there are not even that many members of the LGBTQ+ community in Minot. As Royce said, “In terms of the numbers game, there’s probably a larger ‘Star Wars’ fan base here than there is LGBT community.” And while he’s right, a widely popular and movie-history changing franchise is likely to have more fans in Minot than LGBTQ+ members, this non-sequitur of Royce’s inability to comprehend what identity is and how it is distinct when compared to, say, an opinion about a film, further alludes to his ignorance.

Not to mention that this type of comment disregards the fact that there is certainly a large group of LGBTQ+ individuals in Minot. Nationally, a Gallup poll found that 4.5 percent of Americans identify as LGBTQ+, or, in Minot, roughly 2,100 people. 

The Pride flag was later argued to represent the views of a special interest group by one Wendy Walker, as she said to Sipma, “Mr. Mayor, I would like to come to understand how the decision was made to fly the flag of a special interest group?… That flag is called an abomination to God. We love God and must stand for truth.”

As Alderwoman Carrie Evans pointed out, the flag was flown on the same pole as the Juneteenth flag was flown last month and as the POW MIA (prisoner of war, missing in action) flag will be flown the following month. These flags are clearly meant to signal to any members that may feel unwelcome in Minot that their city accepts them, but as was evident at the meeting, that’s not the case.

Perhaps the most important element of Wendy Walker’s statement had to do with the idea that the Pride flag goes against God, a popular opinion on Tuesday night. Simeon Waddington said, “God will not let this go.” Other individuals echoed this sentiment, suggesting that the flying of the Pride flag was somehow in direct opposition to the Christian God.

A few things with that. Namely, for the sake of understanding, it should be known that sexual orientation was not even understood in Biblical times. The Bible verses frequently used as a tool to create a narrative on homosexual relations, namely Genesis 19, Judges 19, Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10, condemn topics of sexual violence, the exploitation of young men by older men and relate the fears of continuing family lineages in times of poor health; they say nothing on topics of loving and mutually affirming same-sex relationships.

The other Bible verses frequently cherry-picked about marriage being between a man and a woman often have far more to do with the importance of marriage than the importance of the sexes of those married. I would be curious to know how many individuals in those council chambers were divorced or had histories of pre-marital sex and extramarital affairs. 

So, the issue here is not that God told these people to feel such animosity towards those of a different sexual orientation, it’s that these individuals feel no shame picking and choosing which Bible verses affirm their ‘Christian’ ideals. More than any passage about sexual relations or marriage, the Bible is very clear about love, that love is kind and “does not insist on its own way.”

You could not watch any one of these individuals speak and see love in their hearts towards their LGBTQ+ neighbors. Jesus’ speech on the Sermon of the Mount emphasized the importance of experience in faith; how you can accept Biblical authority but still work towards finding truth and love within your own life.

Instead, these individuals spoke with the authority of religious figures to manipulate the same Biblical passage they use as evidence, which is not only antithetical to what Christians are meant to do but also completely denies the whole division of church and state business this country was founded on. The cognitive dissonance in praising a God who would undoubtedly love every LGBTQ+ person of Minot and commend their message of peace while demonizing those individuals merely asking for kindness is beyond comprehension.

Here’s the biggest reason these citizens seemed to be angry, the thing that stung them the most: that they were being called hateful for their words and actions. One individual, Danita Magnusson had the unfortunate position of going first and saying the following, “Accusing people of this community of bigotry, discrimination, ignorance, ugliness and being intolerant of others because they simply have a difference of opinion is completely unwarranted.” Magnusson’s speech was then followed by a series of bigoted, discriminatory, ugly and intolerant speeches from her fellow townsfolk, so I suppose it’s warranted now.

The highlight of the meeting came after a Mr. Walker insisted that individuals in the meeting were angry, but not hateful, and accused Alderwoman Evans of inappropriate body language. The alderwomen, the first openly lesbian elected official in North Dakota responded, “Don’t tell me you’re not [hateful] and [angry], that’s all I feel. I’ve had to listen to it for days now as has the mayor and many of my colleagues. It is unacceptable.” 

Evans was not alone in feeling this way, a video of her speech to Mr. Walker has since gone viral on TikTok with over 145,000 likes, and with a comments section widely condemning Walker and the citizens who spoke at the meeting.

Regardless of what a social media site said, I decided to speak to Abbie Walker, daughter of Wendy Walker, niece of Mr. Walker and an individual raised in Minot. Her reaction to the meeting says it all: “It was shocking, but at the same time, not surprising… The people in that town are some of the most hateful people I have experienced.”

“I am so ashamed that my family and other members of the Minot community are so hateful to people who don’t look or act like themselves… If I could take it back for them, I would. I want to apologize to each person that was affected by their words. I’m so sorry.”

Abbie Walker went on to say she has no issues with the flag being flown, “The Pride flag is being flown to show the people who are a part of that community that they belong. That they have a place in Minot.” And does Abbie Walker think these individuals, her family included, are being hateful? “They’re angry and putting people down because they are so stuck in their ways. They think that people who are not like them are less than them. That is being hateful. It is hateful to not accept everyone. It’s hateful to not be kind.”

I think Cynthia Session, in a strange attempt to soften the sentiments of others at the meeting, said it best: “No one, no one hates you, I think it’s the lifestyle.” As a member of the LGBTQ+ community myself, I felt that hate. The funny thing about hate is that to those on the receiving end, there is no differentiation between hating someone and hating their lifestyle. 

Alderwoman Evans was the prime receiver of that directed hatred on Tuesday night. In an eloquent and poised speech, she showed everyone in that room that their animosity might be strong but she was far stronger, “I’m sorry it doesn’t make you comfortable, but we’re here, we’re queer and we’re not going away.”

To the citizens of Minot who spoke at the meeting on Tuesday, Danita Magnusson, Simeon Waddington, Josiah Royce, Steve Hamilton, Russell Shower, Eli Waddington, Wendy Walker, Mr. Walker, Nancy Bommelman Bruce, Elijah Royce and Cynthia Sessions let me just say, you may hate me and those like me, or you may hate my lifestyle as you put it, but I don’t hate you.

I pity you. I pity that you will continue on in your life seeing your hatred as righteousness, and, in the process, miss out on having so many wonderful people in your lives; people with hearts full of love and compassion that you may never have the capacity to understand. 

You might have fooled others about your homophobia and you may have even convinced yourselves that what you feel is not hatred, but you have not fooled any of the rest of us. You have exposed yourselves publicly as the angry, hateful, homophobic, un-Christian, bigots that you are. 

You are not lost though, there’s a whole lovely community of people around you. If you only find the capacity within your hearts to truly listen and empathize, there may just be hope for you yet.

Thank you, Abbie Walker, for your impassioned words and your apology that you never should have had to make. Thank you to Mayor Sipma for not relenting the entire meeting despite a long string of opposition. And finally, thank you, Alderwoman Evans, for being an inspiration and force of nature. That room may have been filled with hate but there are thousands with nothing but love and appreciation for you.

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