The incoming student body president at Central Oregon Community College, Mal Soltelo, and graduating student Fredrik Finney-Jordet, both LGBTQ students, talk in the college’s Multicultural Center. Both oppose U.S. Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer’s selection as the commencement speaker. (Courtesy of Catherine Lovekin)
A group of LGBTQ students has called on Central Oregon Community College to rescind its commencement address invitation to U.S. Republican Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer, saying she has “a record of transphobia and supports anti-transgender policies.”
In a letter to the college leaders on Wednesday, they pointed to her support for House Resolution 734, the “Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act,” which passed the Republican-led House and would ban transgender girls from participating in girls’ school sports. Oregon Republican Rep. Cliff Bentz also supported it, while the state’s four Democratic members voted against it.
The letter also cited Chavez-DeRemer’s support for H.R. 5, the “Parents Bill of Rights,” which also passed the House and would require schools to consult with parents before a student is allowed to change his or her name or gender. Bentz supported it while Oregon’s Democratic representatives – except Rep. Earl Blumenauer, who did not vote – opposed it. Both measures have moved to the Senate.
The letter, signed by five students, said students weren’t consulted in the decision of who to invite to speak in the graduation ceremony on Saturday, June 17.
“Students and staff have repeatedly raised concerns about hosting an anti-transgender legislator to represent a student body with many LGBTQ students,” the letter said.
The student body leadership association also sent out a release, signed by the present and incoming student body presidents, saying that it, too, does not support the selection of Chavez-DeRemer, who represents Oregon’s Congressional District 5.
“Many students on campus have raised concerns about Chavez-DeRemer’s many racist, transphobic and degrading comments about many different communities,” it said, adding that her ideals “do not align with the core values” of the college.
The students’ concerns prompted the college’s president, Laurie Chesley, to respond to the controversy with an apology letter sent to staff and students this week.
“I misjudged the potential impacts of inviting a political person to be our commencement speaker,” Chesley said. “I know that my decision has caused pain to some students, faculty, and staff. For that I am truly sorry.”
She also said LGBTQ students are welcome at the college.
“Members of the LGBTQ2+ community have the right to self-expression at our college, and COCC supports equal rights and opportunities for all members of the community regardless of age, sex, race, religion, disability, ethnic heritage, sexual orientation, marital status, social status, socioeconomic status, veteran status, political status or other affiliations. are welcome on campus,” Chesley said.
She promised to improve the process of inviting a speaker by soliciting input from students, faculty and staff. But she will not rescind the invitation. A college spokeswoman, Jennifer Kovitz, said the institution invited Chavez-DeRemer because she’s a U.S. representative and that it had invited former Rep. Greg Walden, a Republican, and U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat, in the past.
As for Chavez-DeRemer, she plans to speak at the ceremony on Saturday, June 17.
“The congresswoman is honored to have been invited to participate in this special day with graduates and is looking forward to speaking at the commencement ceremony,” Aaron Britt, her spokesman, told the Capital Chronicle in an email. “She supports all Oregonians, including those in the LGBTQ+ community.”
The college is handing out about 700 degrees and certificates, Kovitz said, but only about 250 have indicated they plan to attend. Fredrik Finney-Jordet, a graduating student who sent out the letter and signed it, said he knows of about 10 other graduating students who oppose Chavez-DeRemer’s selection, but he said only five or fewer plan to boycott the ceremony.
“Most of us believe it would be more powerful to attend, despite Chavez-DeRemer speaking,” he told the Capital Chronicle.
CORRECTION: The president of Central Oregon Community College is Laurie Chesley. A previous version of this article mistated her first name. The Capital Chronicle regrets the error.
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