[EDITOR’S NOTEThe following is a Letter to the Editor, written and submitted by a verified resident. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions of South King Media, nor its staff:]

Dear Editor, 

Yesterday, Burien’s beautiful PRIDE festival was a tremendous success. I want to open by expressing my gratitude to all of the organizers, and especially to Discover Burien, for hosting such a lovely event. Unfortunately, two anti-PRIDE protestors showed up determined to spread shame and hate. They were shouted down by counter-protestors including brave young children who recognized that PRIDE is meant to be a safe space for a marginalized community and not a forum for debating the humanity of that community. 

Mayor Aragon apparently did not agree. Her Facebook Post about Pride (see screenshot below) noted it was “complete with peaceful opposing protests. Exercise your right to Democracy respectfully!

Peaceful opposing protests” is an interesting way to describe a man with a giant banner saying “ask me why you’re damned to hell” and his friend preaching hate through a microphone & screaming at anyone who asked them to leave.

I am sure Mayor Aragon was proud of the balance of this post, a monument to centrist bothsidesism, that shows how accepting she is to all points of view. But these were two men who brought a message of hate to a celebration of a marginalized group that is actively seeing their rights eroded and hearing neighbors call them groomers and other hateful things because the right wing media has to have an enemy to stir up a moral panic about. In that context, that’s not peaceful or anything worth celebrating, especially not by an elected official who is attending the event for her own political purposes & not because she shares the identities being celebrated in the face of oppression.

And, to be clear I am also a straight cisgender woman who was at PRIDE for political reasons – but I was there to support a queer candidate and participated in the impolite counter protest to drown out the hateful words these two men were amplifying in an attempt to silence the joy of my LGBTQIA+ community members. I didn’t go home to celebrate publicly how nice it was to hear both sides. I don’t say this to pat myself on the back, only to emphasize the particular responsibility that we have when we attend events for marginalized communities of which we are not a member.

Mayor Aragon’s post was especially jarring because she has been so forceful in her requests for civility in council meetings lately. I don’t think anything that CM Cydney Moore has done (or any of us lefties in the crowd who are so often accused of being uncivil when we get emotional) is anywhere near as hateful as the protesters Mayor Aragon is praising in her post. Is civility something she asks only of the left?

This is why I find the Mayor, Deputy Mayor Kevin Schilling, and the rest of the council’s focus on civility to be so disingenuous: because they never have that energy for the hate and even actual violence on the right. If civility really mattered, they’d be speaking up about the dehumanizing language used by the right as often as they are about the tone of those on the left. These calls for civility are nothing more than an attempt to have it both ways, to delay or derail the conversation away from the difficult work of actual justice to focus on the surface issues. Praising hateful protestors like this shows just how hollow these calls are and I hope both Burien and King County see this and will vote accordingly.

Thank you,
Kelsey Vanhee
Boulevard Park, Burien

EDITOR’S NOTE: We reached out to Mayor Sofia Aragon for a response to Vanhee’s letter, and here’s her reply:

I’ve been given the opportunity to respond to a letter to the editor by Kelsey Vanhee where she criticizes a Facebook post describing my time at Burien Pride on Saturday, including an observation about a protest.  To be clear, I didn’t attend the event only to promote my campaign, but to also be part of the PRIDE celebration and affirm the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community. I want to thank the organizers of the event, Discover Burien, for their hard work and creativity, and the tremendous contribution they make every day to the Burien community. 

As a woman and person of color, I have experienced discrimination and intolerance. As a nurse, policymaker, and public official, I’ve worked hard to root out those things wherever I’ve found them. Throughout my career in policy and advocacy, I’ve found speaking out more effective when measured and thoughtful – civil.

Kelsey Vanhee compares my actions with that of Councilmember Cydney Moore. Councilmember Moore’s recent actions speak for themselves. They’ve been well documented in The B-Town Blog and elsewhere. Asking councilmembers and the people in attendance at meetings to behave in a non-disruptive manner and follow basic rules of procedure is not too much to ask, regardless of their political beliefs or position on an issue on the agenda. Without a civil and fair process to hear from the public and each councilmember, the people’s business can’t get done. And that’s what we were elected to do.

Respectful dialogue and listening to those who you don’t agree with is what is needed to bring people together.  People are tired of polarization and divisiveness in politics.  I ask Ms. Vanhee to stop adding to the personal attacks when our community is already wounded from struggling with challenges.

Ms. Vanhee was recently appointed to the Burien Airport Committee, on which I also serve. I look forward to working with her in that capacity, and to hearing her constructive suggestions about protecting and improving the Burien community. We are all in this together.

– Mayor Sofia Aragon

EDITOR’S NOTEDo you have an opinion you’d like to share with our highly engaged local Readers? If so, please email your Letter to the Editor to [email protected] and, pending review and verification that you’re a real human being, we may publish it. Letter writers must use their full names and cite sources – as well as provide an address and phone number (NOT for publication but for verification purposes).

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5 replies on “LETTER: Burien Pride attendee upset with Mayor over Facebook post; Aragon responds”

  1. I’d like to offer a first hand account of the somewhat peaceful protest that escalated quickly. The sign that was being carried was incredibly disrespectful and the second man reading his interpretation of the scripture was a highly annoying distraction. However, once he plugged into his amplifier and started screaming hateful comments at the crowd, the whole tone changed. A group of kids and a few adults started by simply trying to drown him out. When the man persisted, a few in the crowd stepped up to within a couple of feet of him and began screaming at him to leave. This is when things got out of hand. An elder female Pride volunteer tried to block the man’s movement without making physical contact. She was backing up and sliding side to side trying to impede his movement. The man, who was twice this woman’s size, got frustrated and began taking large, forceful steps which ended with him lowering his shoulder and knocking the woman down. Nothing peaceful about that.

    It is my observation that all of this could have been avoided had it not taken police nearly an hour to respond. Despite the woman asking that charges be filed, one of the three officers made the decision that none would be brought. The two antagonists left, screaming all the way, “Are you happy? You got what you wanted.” In my estimation, the man who knocked down the volunteer should have been arrested.

    Knowing Ms. Aragon personally, I have no doubt that she didn’t see the escalation of the protest. Her booth was quite a bit west of where things got heated and she likely didn’t hear or see it. She is reasonable and measured and never would have characterized the end result as peaceful. I support her sentiment that peaceful protest is democracy in action. In this case, it went way too far.

  2. I appreciate the comment by Chris Thomsen. She reached out to me personally to share what she saw and asked me to clarify what I actually witnessed. I hadn’t seen the escalation she described. In the brief time I was watching from a booth, the kids and adults seemed to successfully counter and drown out the hateful comments by rapidly opening and closing fans and stomping their feet. I saw no one making physical contact with each other. I left shortly thereafter. From Ms. Thomsen’s communication, I now know that the situation became more confrontational after I’d left. I did not intend to minimize a concerning situation and appreciate her personal outreach to share what happened next.

  3. Next time, don’t say anything about “counterprotestors”. These people come to Pride not to actually spread the ‘good word’ or do anything constructive for society, they’re there to inflame tensions and further their own victim complexes. Telling LGBT+ people to be civil when we are facing life and death situations in nearly half the country is like telling someone who’s had their leg cut off to stop screaming. Solve the problem before you neener-neener and fingerwave over someone else’s tone.

  4. When Mayor Aragon says “Respectful dialogue and listening to those who you don’t agree with is what is needed to bring people together. People are tired of polarization and divisiveness in politics.”

    I don’t think people are tired of divisiveness and polarization in politics at all. I think people are tired of being told that hate must be tolerated for the sake of “respect.” That’s not what I call “civility.”

    It sounds lofty and righteous to claim that you just want everyone to be heard with respect, but hate has no space, certainly not in the Burien community, and we will not hear it. We must not tolerate intolerance, because allowing it to be heard will only cause it to spread. You cannot meet hate with civility. You cannot treat hate speech like you would a simple political disagreement and allow it to propagate.

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