KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. —Only on NBC 5 News, a weekend pride event, is being met with pushback from some in the community. The second annual Klamath Pride event is set for Saturday at Veterans Park in downtown Klamath Falls.
But as its nears, LGBTQ+ members of the community say they are now experiencing backlash from a vocal segment of the community, who aren’t welcoming the family-friendly event.
A Saturday Pride event in Klamath Falls meant to welcome inclusivity in the community, is getting push back from an elected government official, and others, spreading what one city councilor called “Inaccurate” information.
“There’s groups coming into this community, this month that want to teach your children what it is to be a drag queen that wants to entice your children, groom your children,” said Pastor Mike Voight. Voight is the pastor of New Horizon Christian Fellowship, speaking in a sermon earlier this month that can be found on the church’s website.
The pastor shocked many in the audience at last weekend’s Benefit for the Basin, an event to raise funds for local children when he turned what was supposed to be a blessing. Into what the event called a personal message that it did not endorse.
It issued an apology on Facebook but soon had to take down the post, because of the discourse in the comments.
“I firmly believe it was not his intent to offend or hurt anybody,” said community member, Valeree Lane. Lane has lived in Klamath Falls for 43 years. In attendance herself, she says people were hurt by his words but says she knows he doesn’t speak for the majority of the community.
“We don’t wanna be known for hatred, we don’t want to be known for intolerance but what we all wanna be known for is a community that cares for their kids,” said Lane.
But organizers of Saturday’s Pride event were not as forgiving.
“There has been some push back there has been some extremists who felt the need to spread some hate and misinformation about the event,” said Jeff Press, one of the organizers.
Jeff Press and Courtney Neubauer are organizing the pride event at Veterans Park at noon Saturday. It includes food, vendors, booths, games, family friend activities, and performances. A number of local organizations are helping support the event like citizens for safe schools, Klamath Behavioral Health, Klamath Advocacy Center, and many more.
“Community organizations community members, we have had so many people and organizations reach out to see how they can help and what they can do to make sure that this event and we are supported,” said Press.
But they’ve seen the ugly comments by some in the community, and even a prayer event organized around the same time, that was moved from the park to the Klamath Government Center, just a short walk away.
“I think that based on other comments and the atmosphere that was created and this disinformation that was spread it was done so purposefully to cause fear,” said Neubauer.
Oregon State Representative E. Werner Reschke is among those sharing the post, and saying it was moved to avoid any appearance of confrontation or being labeled as a protest. The post says they’re praying for, “children’s safety.”
“The opposition is out there and it’s unfortunate but it is freedom of speech and that’s why we live in such a wonderful country.” “I am disappointed, I thought we had come further than that as a society.
This isn’t the first time Klamath Falls has made national headlines for not being a welcoming community to everyone. Back in June 2020 after the death of George Floyd, hundreds of protesters gathered in the streets of Klamath Falls. Many carry rifles and handguns to protect businesses after rumors of possible threats of violence and looting from outsiders, like Antifa. Similar things happened in communities across the county, like in Grants Pass and Medford. Twitter said white nationalist groups spread that rumor.
“There was a lot of social media that Antifa was coming and I think a lot of people were frightened and we are a rural area and they came out to protect,” said Mayor Carol Westfall.
2nd term Mayor Carol Westfall says an equity task force was formed after that, to ensure a more inclusive environment in the community. She points to the renaming of Kit Carson Park, as one of its successes.
“It was a group of people who were passionate about it and they got on it and we welcome that passion,” said Mayor Westfall.
But some members of the task force say more needs to be done. The city’s former liaison to the task force, the then-assistant to the city manager, Eric Osterberg, though it should become permanent. He was allegedly threatened with a rock at a city council meeting for being a gay, black man. The DA’s office pursued charges.
“I know Mr. Osbergberg worked very hard with the task force in all their efforts he is no longer with the city. Certainly it continued to enforce that message of we need to continue to move forward with how we resolve and deal with equity within our own community,” said city Pio, Kristina Maiwaring.
The task force dissolved last fall, sending a letter to members signed by the mayor and city council. It ended by saying the city is quote “Committed to govern and approach all issues in a fair and equitable manner for all citizens in Klamath Falls.”
State Representative Reschke did not respond to our request seeking comment.
The Klamath Tribes released a statement this week in support of the event. It says the tribes welcome all members of the community.