Anti-LGBTQIA+ Comments Disrupt and Delay Eugene-4J School Board Meeting

Eugene School District 4J meetings have been delayed by outbursts in the past but Wednesday’s meeting was especially heated, resulting in an audience member being removed by one of the district’s safety monitors.

The outburst occurred during the public testimony part of the agenda. 4J, in accordance with public meeting law, provides the public full access to the meetings and also chooses to allow individuals a chance to give public comments during regular sessions.

The first public speaker of the night encouraged the board to continue on its path of ensuring that the district is a welcoming and safe environment for all students, especially LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC individuals.

“Education should be rich and full. Students deserve to learn about society and to feel seen and supported as they navigate a complicated world.  This includes continuation of anti-racist education and spirit to push against injustice and intolerance and make sure those affected are safe and able to flourish. Social acceptance and support and all of it is critical to maintaining the mental health and well-being of trans and queer students and students of color it aids better education, health of life, and it helps to ensure a lower rate of suicidality and social ostracization, a wave that is currently sweeping through our district.”

The protests surrounding the pride event at North Eugene High School spilled into Wednesday’s meeting. In response to those protests and to prior statements of hate directed at the LGBTQIA+ community made during previous meetings, many community members made statements in support, echoing the first speaker. 

All except for the lone protester directly involved in the altercation during the district’s Pride Fest.

Cale McCoullough, the second speaker of the evening, gave an angry statement spreading misconceptions, lies, and vitriol. In the three minutes given for comment, McCoullough touched on all the conservative controversial talking points regarding Oregon’s LGBTQIA+ community.

McCoullough brought up HB2002 which allows individuals to seek out gender affirming care and abortions without parental consent. HB 2002 is one of the current bills that Republican State Senators have delayed voting on with their “walk out.” The senators involved have been hard at work turning the controversy into financial gain, even selling shirts to followers who believe these senators have “taken a sword” for the cause. 

The thirteen senators who initiated the walkout formed a political action committee and have planned to “rescue their political careers with a lawsuit.” Unfortunately, funds raised by PACs cannot be used for litigation purposes. According to Oregon Public Broadcasting, the not-so clandestine group may turn to crowdsourcing those funds instead. 

But as the senators continue to delay the public process, public school funding is in limbo as next year’s budget has yet to be passed. 

Back in the 4J meeting, McCoullough also spoke about the controversial Churchill High School homework assignment, critical race theory, and the pride event while simultaneously making false claims and accusations. 

According to McCoullough, acceptance and encouragement of LGBTQIA+ individuals “endorses narcissistic behavior” and results in “children” threatening and manipulating people when “they don’t get their way.” 

“It gives children a sense of entitlement and lack of empathy and arrogance, you better do what I say or you’re harming me” McCoullough said.

As McCoullough spoke, some audience members voiced their agreement but after he finished, the tension in the room boiled over. While some clapped as McCoullough finished, others reacted with anger. One indecipherable outburst offended audience member Harry Sanger — who is also known for public outbursts.

“Could we have a statement about decorum again, please. I just heard somebody say ‘bigot,’ that’s completely inappropriate,” Sanger shouted.

Board chair Maya Rabasa took control of the floor and reminded all audience members that any disruption would cause a recess and possible removal from the meeting. Sanger tried to interject, “nobody insulted the first commenter,”  he said, garnering him a warning from the board by name. 

“Harry, I’m going to ask you to stop or else you are going to be asked to leave,” Rabasa said. 

With that, the board turned to the next public speaker. The speakers who followed thanked the board for not canceling the Pride Fest, asking them to denounce the actions of the protesters and encouraged the district to continue to stand up against hate.

One parent said “students need caring peers and adults who will acknowledge and interrupt racist, transphobic, and homophobic remarks every time they occur.” 

Per board policy, ten speakers are allotted three minutes each during the regular session but not all who signed-up were present to give public comment. 

When the board tried to move on to the next agenda item, Sanger disrupted the meeting again.

Sanger claimed that the board was in violation of their policy since only six people gave public comments. He then attempted to declare a “point of order” which was quickly shut down by Rabasa. 

During their back-and-forth argument, Rabasa told Sanger that, as an audience member, he was to refrain from interacting with the board during meetings. Sanger disagreed and, incorrectly, claimed there was nothing preventing him from doing so. 

According to public meeting law, meetings are overseen by the board chair who is responsible for maintaining the meeting’s order. 

Public meeting law also only requires that meetings are accessible to be viewed by the public and does not guarantee public participation. In fact, due to anti-mask protests stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic and protests against inclusion of the LGBTQIA+ community, a few other Oregon school boards have cleared the meeting rooms after a disruption, proceeding the meetings virtually from that point forward.

The authority to remove individuals who disrupt meetings is also included, something that Sanger has done several times, though this was the first time he was escorted out. 

Segments of those meetings highlighting Sanger’s public comments or terse interactions with the board are often shared on YouTube. More often than not, those segments were directed at current, albeit absent, board member Laural O’Rourke, Sanger’s opponent during the 2021 special election.

Using the authority recently granted to the board chair, usurping the democratic voting process, Rabasa recessed the meeting while Sanger was escorted out. Ibra Taher, one of the co-founders of Kids for Success, who urged parents to speak out against the Pride event, left with Sanger.

Upon their dismissal all the board members present that evening gave statements in support of the LGBTQIA+ community and the regular session continued on without further interruption.

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