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Oregon school board bans Pride & BLM flags provoking community anger

After the ban of Pride & Black Lives Matter flags in schools neighbors constructed a large Progress Pride flag within view of the high school

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Screenshot via KGW8 NBC News Portland, Oregon

NEWBERG, Or. – The Board of the Newberg Public Schools in a 4-3 vote last week will take action to ban display of any variant of the LGBTQ Pride flag and additionally will ban display of any flag associated with the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement.

The Board’s meeting conducted over Zoom due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the explosion of cases of the Delta variant, will enact the ban on those flags, and any broadly “political” signs, clothing and other items, with the board’s three-member policy committee set to outline what constitutes “political,” Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.

The Board with an all white conservative majority comprised of 5 men and 4 women, has already provoked controversy when last month they moved to strike down local and statewide policies around inclusion and racism. These actions brought swift condemnation from state lawmakers including members of the Oregon Legislature’s Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) caucus.

In a statement released by BIPOC, lawmakers expressed their displeasure with the school board’s actions; “As a Caucus, we remain committed to a more equitable education system that prioritizes student success and look forward to taking action during next year’s session to hold districts accountable. We also call on state and community leaders to denounce the school board’s actions. It is not ‘partisan’ to reject the type of hatred and bigotry Director Shannon and Chairman Brown [ NPS Board members] are promoting. The goal of providing a quality education for all students should be nonpartisan, including addressing systemic barriers.”

Local community members who are opposed to the ban came up with a creative protest this week according to KGW8 NBC TV news in Portland, Oregon which reported;

Following last week’s Newberg School Board vote to ban Pride and Black Lives Matter flags in schools, neighbors have constructed a large Progress Pride flag within view of the high school.

“We wanted maximum visibility,” Erin McCarthy said. “The result is pretty amazing, we love it.”

Erin and her husband Jaybill own a hillside farm in Newberg about a mile and half from Newberg High School. A clearing through the trees on their hill reveals the 17′ by 30′ painted plywood Pride Flag within view of the high school football field.

Staff members have also raised concerns over the Board’s actions. According to Oregon Public Broadcasting, 16 of the school district’s counselors signed a letter asking that the Board not approve the initiative to remove the flags.

During last week’s NPS school board Zoom call meeting, one counselor, Joshua Reid, shared stories he heard from students, including students who had been rejected by their families and a Black student who was verbally and physically harassed and followed home.

“When these students enter our schools, and see the symbols that we mean to communicate love and support and affirmation, they don’t see propaganda or indoctrination or any ideology,” Reid said. “They see a glimmer of hope that there can still be safe places and safe people in their schools.”

OPB also noted that teacher Stacey Dalton, said the LGBTQ+ Pride and Black Lives Matter flags help students see themselves in school when they may not otherwise.

“They are messages of love and support,” Dalton said. “White and or heteronormative students, the majority, see their own validation consistently in the curriculum Newberg School districts have adopted and therefore do not need extra messages of support.”

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Oregon

Oregon man charged with Federal hate crime after attacking gay man

On Nov. 15, the suspect was arrested by the FBI and made his initial appearance in federal court before a U.S. Magistrate Judge

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Daniel Andrew McGee (Booking Photo via Lane County Sheriff's Office Eugene, Oregon)

EUGENE, Or. – An Oregon man has been charged with a federal hate crime after using the internet to target and brutally assault a gay man because of his sexual orientation.

Daniel Andrew McGee, of Springfield, Oregon has been charged by criminal complaint with a hate crime. The complaint alleges that McGee attempted to kill the victim.

According to court documents, McGee and his victim met using Grindr, a social media and networking application designed for, and used primarily by, gay men. On July 5, after agreeing to meet, McGee entered his victim’s apartment and proceeded to assault the man with a wooden club over a period of several minutes. Despite the victim’s pleas for McGee to stop, McGee continued striking the man repeatedly in the head with the club. The victim sustained life-threatening injuries and was transported to a local hospital.

Further investigation revealed that, in the weeks leading up to the attack, McGee used the internet to search for and view graphically violent anti-gay material, including videos of anti-gay attacks. McGee also used the internet to plan the assault, purchasing the weapon and other materials online. In addition, McGee searched online for suggestions about how to get away with murder and how murderers avoid getting caught.

On Nov. 15, McGee was arrested by the FBI and made his initial appearance in federal court before a U.S. Magistrate Judge. He was ordered detained pending further court proceedings.

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and Acting U.S. Attorney Scott Erik Asphaug of the District of Oregon made the announcement.

This case was investigated by the FBI with assistance from the Eugene Police Department. 

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Oregon

Non-binary person reports assault by Proud Boys near Portland, Oregon

‘They nearly killed me’

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Juniper Simonis (Photo by Mariah Harris)

GRESHAM, Ore. — It was a typical day for Juniper Simonis. The freelance ecologist decided to break from work for lunch at about 3 p.m. to take their service dog, Wallace, to the local dog park and grab a bite to eat.  

But a planned peaceful afternoon quickly turned ugly. Simonis says they survived a gang assault of about 30 perpetrators in Gresham, Ore., a suburb outside of Portland. The Oregon resident encountered the group for only minutes but suffered a concussion, sprained jaw, extensive car damage and verbal assaults, they said. 

“They nearly killed me,” they said.

Simonis said they turned into a parking lot to pick up lunch in Gresham, Ore., and stumbled upon a rally that included several members of the Proud Boys — a far-right, ultra-nationalist organization known for its anti-LGBTQ, anti-feminism and neo-fascist ideologies. 

There was a “Flag Ride” right-wing rally in a parking lot earlier that day. Simonis was under the impression the event had ended after checking reports on Twitter. After pulling into the lot, originally to look for lunch options, Simonis saw a large gathering still in the lot. 

Simonis decided to take pictures of what was happening to post online to warn others and was intentional in keeping their distance, they said. As Simonis was preparing to leave the area, they yelled from inside the car, “Fuck you, fascists, go home.” 

“I did not expect this to escalate into violence,” they said. 

The attack itself only lasted about three minutes, Simonis said. Simonis was quickly surrounded by several people and physically blocked from leaving the lot. People stepped in front of the parking lot exit, then a car was moved to barricade Simonis. People began to shout homophobic slurs at Simonis, they said. 

“I’m in serious trouble now and I know it,” they said. 

Simonis was then punched while inside their vehicle and was briefly knocked out. They regained consciousness a few seconds later, and a cinder block was thrown at the car and shattered the back window of their car inches away from their service dog, Wallace. 

Simonis got out of the car to assess the damage and make sure their service dog was safe. They quickly got back in their car and was able to leave the lot by maneuvering around the blocked exit, Simonis said. 

Wallace, Juniper Simonis’ service dog. (Photo by Mariah Harris)

Looking back at the photos and videos Simonis took before the assault, Simonis said they saw people looking into the camera and acknowledging them taking photos. 

“I honestly don’t know if I hadn’t said anything, that … things would have gone any different,” they said. 

Last year, Simonis was targeted and arrested by federal police in Portland during the tumultuous Black Lives Matter protests in the city. They were denied medical attention, misgendered, jumped and aggressively handcuffed while taken into custody. 

Simonis is still working through legal proceedings in a multi-plaintiff lawsuit. 

A witness to the event called the Gresham Police Department, which was only a few blocks away from the incident. But the call went to voicemail and the witness did not leave a message, Simonis said. 

Another witness called 911, Simonis said, which led to an officer calling Simonis about 45 minutes after the accident to take a report.   

In the police report obtained by the Blade, Simonis is consistently misgendered. Simonis’ sex is also listed as “unknown” in the report. The incident was labeled as vehicle vandalism. 

Simonis said the conversation with the officer was filled with victim-blaming and the officer wrote in the report that Simonis should avoid “approaching groups of this nature.”  

“At no point in this conversation does he treat me as an actual victim of a crime,” Simonis said.

The Gresham Police Department did not respond to a request for comment. 

Weeks after the assault, Simonis is struggling mentally and physically, they said. 

The concussion makes working on a computer virtually impossible because of light sensitivity and trouble focusing, Simonis said. The pain caused by the sprained jaw makes it difficult to focus, as well. 

Simonis is not able to begin physical therapy for their jaw until November because of long medical wait times, they said. The cost to repair the car damages will be about $8,000, as well, they said.  

The times where Simonis is able to focus are usually taken up by piecing together what happened that day, they said. 

“The part of my brain that I use for work has been hijacked functionally by the part of the brain that needed to know what happened to me,” they said. “There is such a painful need to understand what happened to me.”

Because of past traumatic events, like the experience of being in federal custody last year, Simonis said processing and living with the trauma is a bit easier to handle. But their ability to work will be forever changed yet again, they said. 

“I’m not able to work at the pace that I used to work at before I was assaulted by DHS. I’ll never be,” they said. “And this is just a further knockdown.” 

The trauma of the event has increased Simonis’ hyper-vigilance, as well. 

“Every time I hear a car go by, I’m double-checking,” they said. 

Even though Simonis has the tools to process and live with the immense trauma, they will never be the same person, they said. 

“They fucking changed my life forever. Point blank,” they said. “Not just mentally, but physically and physiologically. I can’t go back to where I was before. I’m lucky that I survived.”

Simonis has reported the attack to the FBI and is pursuing legal action with two specific goals in mind: to heal and to prevent similar crimes from happening.

“I am somebody who believes in abolishing the carceral system and the justice system as it exists and policing,” Simonis said. “But also a 37-year-old trans and disabled person who somehow managed to survive this long. And so naturally has become pragmatic about the world.”

Because of the reaction of the Gresham Police Department, Simonis did not want to work with local officers and instead went to the federal level. But because of the alleged assault by agents in Portland last year, this decision wasn’t easy for them.

Perpetrators in the assault threatened to call the police on Simonis,  even though Simonis did not commit a crime. Reporting the crime to the federal level is also a layer of protection, they said. 

“All of this is forcing my hand,” they said. There is no easy decision in the situation, they added. 

“We all know that crimes are underreported. We hear about it all the time,” they said. And there are reasons why people don’t report crimes and they’re totally understandable. A lot of victims are very concerned about what will happen if they break anonymity. In my situation, I’ve already broken anonymity.”

With recent arrests and crackdowns on the Proud Boys and other hate groups in the United States, Simonis is bracing for a long process. 

“This isn’t just going to go on a shelf,” they said. 

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