An angry 18-year-old took to Facebook this Fall to air his grievances about what he saw as a world takeover. The subjects of his ire? In his words, the LGBTQ community.
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The man was from Sedro-Woolley. The Sedro-Woolley police department had investigated and found no real threat. Yet, the post stoked fear and anxiety within the local LGBTQ community and anonymous individuals started a campaign to promote inclusiveness within Sedro-Woolley and Skagit Valley. A letter delivered to local businesses read: "This [post] was a painful reminder that we are shopping, working, dining, and living in the same small town as at least one person who would like to see our LGBTQ+ neighbors killed." It urged businesses to put rainbow flags in their windows to broadcast their support of the LGBTQ community.
Kathy Reim, Communications Chairwoman for Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) Skagit wasn't alarmed about the post.
"As we have been thinking about this," Reim said, "we think that part of this is that PFLAG has had a very warm and pretty high profile in Skagit Valley. Our view is that this pushback is because we're not invisible anymore. It also means that this 18-year-old person knows that we’re around. In some ways that is a compliment to what we’re doing here."
There are a lot of stereotypes about Sedro-Woolley. My friend, who grew up in Mount Vernon described Sedro-Woolley as "its own biome." The town was and always has been a logging town. It's small and it's rural.
"The stereotypes about geography are just as frustrating as any stereotypes," Reim said, "and there are many, many stereotypes about the rural areas."
"This is where our PFLAG chapter started nearly 20 years ago," Reim said. "There’s been a lot of strong leadership. That isn’t to say we don’t have people who crawl out of the woodwork, my observation"—Reim has worked as a regional director for PFLAG in five states— "is that you have those folks everywhere."
This county is far more progressive than people, especially those in urban areas, give it credit for. Marriage equality passed there, cited Reim. And, according to her, PFLAG is thriving. It's the strongest chapter in the state of Washington.
The police department responded immediately to the threat, also. They had recently undergone sensitivity training from the Seattle Police Department and handled the situation expertly, Reim said. In fact, every police department in their community has undergone these trainings.
"[It's] kinda cutting edge for what rural communities can do to make their communities safer," Reim said. "The great part of this is that our urban areas are helping us in rural areas stay safe, that’s pretty remarkable."
That detail offers a little bit of hope in a time when it seems the divide between the Washington's urban and rural areas have grown into a vast, yawning chasm. Post-midterms, reports came out describing the deepening separation between ways of thinking—how a blue wave did, indeed, break, but only in urban and suburban areas. The red tide, instead, swept through rural communities.
The community response to the hateful message reinforces what Reim believes, that this is a natural resistance to a community growing more progressive each day.
"What we're thinking is that because we’re more visible this individual warranted some kind of pushback," Reim said. "That’s the history of social justice. There's pushback but you keep stepping forward."