PORT TOWNSEND — Hundreds of people descended on downtown Port Townsend, with protests and scuffles outside City Hall, as the city council considered a transgender proclamation in light of an ongoing controversy involving the locker room policy at Mountain View Pool.
As the City Council read a proclamation affirming the city as a welcoming place for all people, including transgender people on Monday night, the streets outside City Hall were full of people, the majority carrying pride flags or signs declaring support for transgender people.
During the public comment period in the council chambers, all but one of the speakers thanked the City Council for their support for transgender people following a July 26 incident at the city-owned Mountain View Pool.
An 80-year-old woman was banned after she confronted a transgender woman, an employee of the YMCA which operates the pool, in the women’s locker room.
The incident has attracted international attention and has been featured on such national outlets as Fox News.
Mayor David Faber read the proclamation, and then presented Beau Ohlgren, a local transgender advocate, with a copy.
“This has been a pretty distressing couple of weeks coupled with some pretty beautiful reactions of the YMCA cheering outside,” Ohlgren said.
“It is unacceptable that people are being harassed at their places of work. It’s unacceptable that we cannot treat each other with civility.”
The only person critical of the council’s decision who gave public comment on Monday was King County resident Agata Bergstrom, who called in to give testimony.
“Everyone has a right to their personal beliefs, but nobody has the right to shove their beliefs down anybody else’s throat,” Bergstrom said.
“Gender identity is a belief system incompatible with scientific evidence that says humans cannot change sex,” she added.
Decorum rules at City Hall don’t allow for audience responses to speakers such as clapping or cheering, and the atmosphere inside the council chambers was quiet and civil.
It was different outside City Hall.
Small scuffles broke out between protest groups and police arrested at least one person as some pro-trans activists confronted a counter-protest held at John Pope Marine Park across the street.
The woman at the center of the controversy, Julie Jaman, was joined by local activist Amy Sousa, who organized a protest against the council’s proclamation, saying the city was ignoring the concerns of women in the community.
Jaman was banned from the local pool for violating the facility’s code of conduct after a confrontation with a transgender employee in the women’s locker room.
Jaman previously told Peninsula Daily News she was showering when she heard what she described as a man’s voice and looked to see a transgender woman in a bathing suit with two young girls.
She confronted the person — an employee who was escorting summer camp attendees to the bathroom according to policy — and was quickly banned from swimming at the pool she said she’s used for more than 30 years.
The incident has drawn national attention and Monday evening several people on both sides of the issue traveled from outside Port Townsend and Jefferson County to show support for their respective beliefs.
“I came here to stand in support of women, adult human females,” said Dawn Land, who held a sign with a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln; “No law gives [men] the right to do what is wrong.”
Land said she didn’t live in Port Townsend but came into town to show her support for Jaman.
“I came here to support Julie and women’s rights,” Land said.
“I think that she should be allowed to swim. They should not have banned her for standing up for the rights of women,” she added.
“I would really like to see the City Council make a proclamation statement in support of women, because we’re not hating on anyone, but we do think that women really do need to maintain their sex-based rights.”
Sophia Dalke, a 38-year-old transgender woman waiting in line outside City Hall, said she spent nearly 2½ hours traveling from Everett to give testimony.
“This is a very serious civil rights issue and I wanted to be out here to do what I can to support others like myself,” Dalke said.
Jaman’s supporters were vastly outnumbered outside City Hall on Monday, and as Jaman and others tried to speak, some protesters booed, rang bike bells and shouted over her so that at times it was difficult to hear.
While most of the protesters shouted and tried to drown out Jaman and her supporters from afar, some moved in close and at least one person tried to disable the microphone and speaker being used.
Shoving matches broke out as people pushed signs and cameras in each other’s faces. At several points, speeches were interrupted and speakers asked for the police to intervene.
“Are we going to get beaten up?” Jaman asked at one point.
Her group left with police officers between them and protesters.
Both the Port Townsend Police Department and the State Patrol were at the scene Monday evening. Streets surrounding City Hall were blocked off to traffic by law enforcement. At least one person was arrested.
Trooper Katherine Weatherwax, district spokesperson with the State Patrol, said Port Townsend police requested assistance in blocking off traffic as it became clear there was a lot of interest in the event, and troopers assisted once the protests became physical.
Weatherwax confirmed that one man was arrested but said troopers only assisted in the arrest. The Port Townsend Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Following the protest, Louis Salsbury, a 40-year resident of Port Townsend, accused protesters of suppressing free speech.
“This was the most disgraceful event of mob rule I’ve seen; physically assaulting people trying to speak their piece, pulling the microphone out of their hand, almost,” Salsbury said.
“This is not democracy at work; this is mob rule.”
Another resident, Candace Young, had a different take on the protests.
“That group of people who are supporting (Jaman) are just bigots trying to push through their religious philosophy on other people and I’m frankly glad they were shouted down because it all comes down to bigotry,” Young said.
Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at [email protected]