Mayor Tammy Dana-Bashian recently announced the city would celebrate LGBTQ Pride Month throughout June. The city’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Commission (RDEIC) had first requested the mayor issue a proclamation, which was granted at the June 1 council meeting. But not everyone was thrilled about it.
Public speakers at the June 1 City Council meeting, including several local pastors, said while people identifying as LGBTQ can be good, the pastors don’t want to condone their sexuality with such a proclamation.
Controversy followed, with a flood of emails to city officials and petitions all objecting to the proclamation. It all set the stage for a tense council meeting June 15. One of the people who turned out was Ryan Khalil.
Khalil moved to Rowlett in 2016. Two years later, he helped found the RDEIC. “The mission is to bring visibility and recognition to marginalized populations so we can get them involved in the city and bring people together,” he said.
Though the community is still divided when it comes to things like inclusion and diversity, Khalil said forming the commission was smooth.
“I think Tuesday night demonstrated that [Rowlett] is an inclusive city." – Ryan Khalil, Rowlett resident
Dana-Bashian had just been elected the city’s first female mayor and had a lot of influence. The commission "was an important project she wanted to get off the ground soon after that," Khalil said. The council went on to unanimously approve its creation.
Backlash quickly erupted. Some council members were upset when the mayor lit up the water tower in support of the George Floyd protests last year.
“It led to discussions within council where they wanted a new water tower lighting policy so something like that can't happen again without council's consent,” Khalil said. “This was, of course, the first time they cared, similarly to this month's proclamation.”
Still, Khalil said last week’s City Council meeting signaled a shift in Rowlett. The city ultimately decided to keep its Pride Month proclamation and light up the water tower through June in celebration.
“I think [last] Tuesday night demonstrated that it is an inclusive city,” Khalil said. “I think there are a decent number of people that don't want it to be, but every city has a few knuckleheads that want to live in the past. But the community came through in a big way to fight against that characterization on Tuesday.”
Now, opponents are again trying to change the city’s proclamation process so it requires a majority of the council’s approval. Khalil said a policy change is not only unnecessary, but it will also make it harder for the commission to fulfill its goals.
“The proclamation process is a simple and effective way to bring recognition to communities,” Khalil said. “Further, the proclamation process is a critical tool used by all boards and commissions to recognize individuals and groups. … To make it more difficult to request proclamations will hamstring us in pursuing that mission.”
He said the commission will keep fighting for an effective proclamation policy so they can continue to “shine a light on community members and groups that are often not in the spotlight.”