We All Belong Here – Embracing Diversity

The following post was taken from an email sent from the Rural Organizing Project team after they hosted a community event at the museum.

On September 21st, over 80 community members from the Coos Bay area crowded into the Coos History Museum! The event opened with Liv, President of the North Bend High School Gay Straight Alliance, and Kari sharing personal stories about the ways that homophobia and transphobia had threatened their safety and ability to thrive in Coos County, and offering direction about how the community can show up for those under attack.

Israel Jurich, Pastor of North Bend’s Faith Lutheran Church, facilitated the panel with Kari and Liv. In hearing their stories, he reflected on the impact that harassment and bias crimes have on the community at large. Violence and discrimination marginalize people who have so much to offer to our small towns, making it difficult for them to stay and thrive. “We risk losing incredible people of great value to our community; people who are amazing community leaders, colleagues, friends, and employees… our best students and our best crab and shrimp pickers!”

The second half of the forum focused on a community discussion. The audience broke into small groups to share stories of harassment and discrimination that they had experienced or witnessed, and brainstorm ways that they could intervene as a community. Some of the ideas that the forum generated included:

  • Putting out a community-wide resource guide that would be available online and in binders at public libraries
  • Creating a monthly suggested read & watch list on area social media pages and forming a book club focused on building a more welcoming community
  • Holding trainings on security, deescalation and bystander intervention
  • Forming a rapid response team that could quickly engage and support when people are targeted by hate crimes and discrimination
  • Youth-led demonstrations at local schools to draw attention to the lack of support from law enforcement and school administrators for LGBTQIA+ students and students of color

The forum also engaged people in a local welcoming poster campaign — “We all belong here” — which was created to encourage local businesses and organizations to be overt and proactive in building a welcoming community by placing posters in their store windows as ambassadors to this crucial conversation.

The community forum closed with a commitment to continue organizing, because, as attendees stated at the event, who else do we have but each other? When the police don’t respond, or make things less safe for our most impacted neighbors, we have to turn to each other to build the kind of community that we all want to live in; one where everyone can thrive and be who they are without fearing for their lives at work, at school, and in their own homes and neighborhood. One where difference is seen as strength, and people are valued for bringing their whole selves to their work and community.

Since the forum, local organizers have formed the We All Belong Here Coalition, a human dignity group committed to responding when their neighbors are threatened by violence and discrimination.The forum sparked media coverage and pressured local law enforcement to sit down with community leaders and hear the ways that their departments are failing people. As leaders in Coos Bay demonstrate, our safety and resilience lies in our commitment to each other, to bringing these stories out into the open and then, together, building strategies to respond!

Grace, Hannah, Cara, Keyla, Jess and the ROP team

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