Mayor Donna Schmitt’s gavel got a workout July 8. She used it several times to restore order in Columbia Heights’ City Council chambers as members of the city’s LGBTQAI+ community sought an explanation for her refusal to issue a mayoral proclamation recognizing the Heights’ first PRIDE celebration, to be held July 13 at Sullivan Lake Park. The commotion occurred during the community forum session at the end of the council meeting.
Schmitt had run a brisk meeting, cruising through the consent agenda and reports. Before she opened the forum, she read a statement outlining her reasons for not issuing the proclamation. “A mayoral proclamation is merely a ceremonial document issued at the discretion of the mayor,” she said. “For 97 years, Columbia Heights has had no official guidelines on proclamations. Now is the starting point.”
With television cameras from KARE-11 and Fox 9 running, Schmitt gave three reasons for issuing a proclamation:
• Commemorating a historical event that occurred 25 or more years ago
• A distinct relationship between the function and the city of Columbia Heights
• Recognizing groups or individuals within the city limits of Columbia Heights
Schmitt took a shot at HeightsNEXT, which is sponsoring the July 13 PRIDE celebration at Sullivan Lake with Columbia Heights PRIDE. “It seems to me that HeightsNEXT has become politically charged and is no longer focused on sustainability.” [Schmitt and Council Member Connie Buesgens are charter members of HeightsNEXT.]
“In no way does my not issuing a proclamation imply that I am anti-LGBTQ, as some have posted on my Facebook page,” Schmitt said. “Enjoy your celebration. You don’t need a proclamation.”
She moved on to the community forum, explaining that the forum gives citizens a chance to speak, and that council members would listen, but not comment, on what the community had to say. She asked the audience to refrain from clapping or commenting.
Frost Simula of HeightsNEXT was the first to walk to the podium. He said the group had submitted a request for a proclamation on June 17, noting that the city had no official process for submitting a request. No response had been received as of July 3. “It was an insult,” he said.
The audience burst into applause and the gavel came down.
K.T. Jacobs spoke in favor of the mayor’s actions. Jacobs, who said her son is gay, said she had inquired about having a table at the PRIDE event to promote the 2020 Census and was turned down. “All the vendor tables are from the LGBTQ community. This community event has not been advertised. It has the appearance of exclusivity.”
[The Northeaster has published announcements of the event in two recent editions.]
Lindsay Schell-Edwards, 18, followed Jacobs. She made a few remarks and concluded, “You can keep your proclamation, Donna. We are worthy!” Cheers erupted from the audience, and the mayor rapped the gavel again.
Gilbert Evans said the purpose of the PRIDE celebration was to celebrate 50 years of progress in the LGBTQ community. “We’ll continue to make progress,” he said, “but we still need equal rights, and equal protection under the law.”
Andy Newton and Nelle Bing read a “Citizens’ Proclamation” they had written. At the conclusion of the reading, the audience cheered again, causing Schmitt to bang the gavel again and issue a warning that the next outburst would end the meeting.
Paula Haller, Fridley, sought a middle ground. “I support the community having a festival,” she said. “I don’t see why they need a city proclamation. Nobody here knows who I love. It shouldn’t make a difference.”
Editor’s note: This edition of the Northeaster went on the press the day of the Columbia Heights PRIDE festival. Visit www.mynortheaster.com for coverage of the event.
The Citizens of the City of Columbia Heights, MN Proclamation
Whereas, the city of Columbia Heights has a diverse Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, Intersexed, and Asexual community which is an integral part of the culture and climate therein; and
Whereas, the diverse LGBTQIA community continues to grow within our community, contributing to the academic, economic, artistic, and social spheres within our community, and whose families and supporters are an integral part of the fabric of our city; and
Whereas, the people of Columbia Heights and the LGBTQIA community continue to support and encourage diversity in the workplace and throughout the community; and
Whereas, positive images provide support and advocacy to Columbia Heights’ gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersexed, and asexual youth and young adults, and educates the greater community; and
Whereas, the city of Columbia Heights LGBTQIA community, for the first time in the city’s history, will be recognized and celebrated by the people of the community with a PRIDE event,
Now therefore, be it resolved that we, the people of Columbia Heights, on behalf of the community, are pleased to present this proclamation of July 13th, 2019 as PRIDE DAY in Columbia Heights.
—Signed, The People of Columbia Heights
Below: Andy Newton and Nelle Bing read a PRIDE Day “Citizens’ Proclamation” they had written. Their proclamation appears transcribed above. Lindsay Schell-Edwards gave an impassioned speech at the Columbia Heights City Council meeting July 8. (Photos by Cynthia Sowden)