Homer Council members cancel meeting over pride proclamation

Jun 12, 2018

Mayor Bryan Zak recognizes June as Homer Pride Month to a crowd of about 80 Homer residents Monday.
Credit Renee Gross, KBBI News

Updated: 5:31 p.m. 

The Homer City Council’s regular meeting was canceled Monday afternoon after three council members refused to attend over a mayoral proclamation. The proclamation celebrated the LGBTQ community in Homer and declared June as “Homer Pride Month.”

Despite the pushback, Mayor Bryan Zak read the declaration outside of city hall. Residents and other members of the council condemned the three local representatives’ decision. The council members say they pulled out of the meeting not because they take issue with the gay community, but because they say the proclamation is divisive.

The city council’s regularly scheduled meeting was canceled after council members Heath Smith, Tom Stroozas, and Shelly Erickson refused to attend, but Zak said it was important to recognize the diverse LGBTQ population. 

Mayor Zak's recognition of June as Homer Pride Month.
Credit Courtesy of the City of Homer

“Businesses, employees, visitors and business owners within in the City of Homer who contribute to the enrichment of our city are a part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community,” Zak read to the crowd.

The proclamation drew both criticism and support on both sides of the political spectrum. City Clerk Melissa Jacobsen said over 170 emails both for and against the declaration poured into the clerk’s office Monday. Several of those emails were also addressed to council members and the mayor.

Jacobsen said roughly 65 were duplicates from Alaska Right to Life, an Anchorage-based pro-life group. A similar number came in supporting Zak’s recognition and roughly 45 emails opposed the move.

The three council members who pulled out of the meeting say the proclamation contained remnants of a resolution from 2017 that was the basis for a divisive recall against three council members.

Council member Smith said he didn’t attend Monday’s meeting to make a statement.

“If we want to talk about true diversity, than we need to take into account the fact that we have a broad and deep base of people within our communities that may not agree with that belief system,” Smith explained.

Council member Erickson said she heard loud and clear from several constituents who said the proclamation violates their morals.

“The silent people of Homer that have felt marginalized when it comes to social issues because they don't agree with the current trends,” Erickson said.

Council member Stroozas also said he did not attend the meeting because of the proclamation.

Others on the council like Rachel Lord said groups outside of the community like Alaska Right to Life influenced the council members’ decision. Lord added that she received several emails from groups in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau among other places.

“We are all representing Homer, and I don't want to speak to their personal beliefs, but they were certainly influenced enough by outside folks to not even come and to kind of sabotage the meeting,” Lord said. “I think that that's irresponsible at best.”

Council members Caroline Venuti and Donna Aderhold also condemned their peers. Local political group Citizens AKtion Network spoke out against the council members as well, saying the move was a recallable offense in an internal communication forwarded onto KBBI. The group did say it had no plans to initiate a recall. 

Alaska Right to Life touted the three council members’ decision on Facebook.

Pat Martin is the head of outreach for the pro-life nonprofit. Martin said Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic, which helped organize Homer’s upcoming pride march later this month, is trying to benefit off the proclamation.

Greater support for gay pride month means greater turnout, greater support for Kachemak Bay Family planning clinics fundraising event at the end of the gay pride parade,” Martin said.

Alaska Right to Life also called the proclamation pro-abortion and anti-family because of its connection to the family planning clinic.

I have no clue where they feel there's a correlation between abortion and pride,” Catriona Reynolds said, executive director of Kachemak Bay Planning Clinic.

Reynolds said the organization offers a multitude of health services, including referrals to providers who provide abortion services.

She adds that the fundraiser is aimed at raising money for the clinic and its programing and that it’s not specifically related to its abortion referral services.  

Still, some council members who refused to attend Monday’s meeting say they did take emails from outside of the community in account.

Council member Stroozas said he factored comments from both inside and outside of the community into his decision to not attend the meeting.

“If someone took the time to send an email that was in a negative tone and obviously they were they were against the recognition or they would not have taken the time to do it,” Stroozas said.

The city has not rescheduled Monday’s meeting. The city council is set to meet again on June 25.

Correction: An earlier version of story incorrectly attributed where Citizens AKtion Network’s statement came from. The group stated that the council members’ refusal to attend the Homer City Council’s meeting Monday was a recallable offense in an internal communication. 

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect comments from Right to Life Alaska, Kachemak Bay Family Planning and members of the Homer City Council. 

Original story:

The Homer City Council’s regular meeting was canceled Monday afternoon after three council members refused to attend over a mayoral proclamation. The proclamation celebrated the LGBTQ community in Homer and declared June as “Homer Pride Month.”

Despite the pushback, a crowd of about 80 Homer residents gathered outside of Homer City Hall to hear Mayor Bryan Zak read the declaration.

The city council’s regularly scheduled meeting was canceled after council members Heath Smith, Tom Stroozas and Shelly Erickson refused to attend because they said Zak’s decision to declare June as Homer Pride Month was divisive.

But Zak said it was important to recognize the diverse LGBTQ population.

“Businesses, employees, visitors and business owners within in the City of Homer who contribute to the enrichment of our city are a part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community,” Zak read to the crowd. 

Mayor Zak's recognition of June as Homer Pride Month.
Credit Courtesy of the City of Homer

The proclamation drew both criticism and support on both sides of the political spectrum. City Clerk Melissa Jacobsen said over 170 emails both for and against the declaration poured into the clerk’s office Monday. Several of those emails were also addressed to council members and the mayor.

Jacobsen said roughly 65 were duplicates from Right to Life, an Anchorage-based pro-life group. A similar number came in supporting Zak’s recognition and roughly 45 emails opposed the move.

The council members who pulled out of the meeting say the proclamation contained remnants of a resolution from 2017 that was the basis for a divisive recall against three council members.

Council member Smith said he didn’t attend Monday’s meeting to make a statement.

“If we want to talk about true diversity, than we need to take into account the fact that we have a broad and deep base of people within our communities that may not agree with that belief system,” Smith explained.

Council member Erickson said she heard loud and clear from several constituents who said the proclamation violates their morals.

“The silent people of Homer that have felt marginalized when it comes to social issues because they don't agree with the current trends,” Erickson said.

Council member Stroozas also said he did not attend the meeting because of the proclamation.

Alaska Right to Life touted the three council members’ decision on Facebook, saying the they stopped pro-abortion and anti-family groups from using the council to push an agenda. 

Others on the council like Rachel Lord said groups outside of the community like Alaska Right to Life influenced the council members’ decision. Lord added that she received several emails from groups in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau among other places.

“We are all representing Homer, and I don't want to speak to their personal beliefs, but they were certainly influenced enough by outside folks to not even come and to kind of sabotage the meeting,” Lord said. “I think that that's irresponsible at best.”

Council members Caroline Venuti and Donna Aderhold also condemned their peers. Local political group Citizens AKtion Network spoke out against the council members as well, saying the move was a recallable offense in a press release. The group did say it had no plans to initiate a recall. 

Tony Stanfill speaks to the crowd after Zak's reading of the proclamation.
Credit Aaron Bolton, KBBI News

Others like Tony Stanfill, a Homer resident who identifies as gay, agreed with Lord, Venuti and Aderhold.

“The message they sent to me is that they are more afraid of the ones that don't want people included then excited by the idea of being included,” Stanfill added.

Catriona Reynolds is executive director of the Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic and spearheaded Pride Month in Homer.

“I think what happened tonight gave us a bigger opportunity, a larger opportunity together as a group to have more heartfelt conversations about why pride is actually important and obviously important in Homer,” Reynolds said.

Family Planning also puts on Homer’s pride parade, which takes place on June 23, two days before the council’s next regularly scheduled meeting.