Huntington Mayor Richard Strick reads the proclamation to the crowd in the City Council Chambers on June 29. Staff photo by Brett Stover
Huntington Mayor Richard Strick reads the proclamation to the crowd in the City Council Chambers on June 29. Staff photo by Brett Stover
Mayor Richard Strick issued an historic proclamation yesterday recognizing and welcoming LGBTQIA members of the Huntington community.

“I, Richard Strick, Mayor of the City of Huntington, do hereby recognize and welcome the unique dignity and diversity of all Huntington residents, and in particular our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual friends, neighbors and family members,” Strick wrote in the proclamation, “and I encourage all people in our City to practice gracious hospitality and unusual kindness towards one another in celebrating diversity while promoting inclusion and equal protection under the law, and I further encourage people to join our efforts to root out discriminatory policies and practices toward any culture, race or group.”

Orion McCormack, director of Huntington Pride – originally called Safe Huntington – said that he reached out to Strick about the possibility of issuing a proclamation.”

“I had approached the mayor back on the campaign trail about something like this happening,” McCormack said. “COVID happened, obviously priorities shifted. When I approached him about it this year, he was very adamant of getting it done. I’m very thankful for that.”

Strick, who said that he doesn’t think there have been any formal recognitions of the LGBTQ community in Huntington prior to Tuesday, said that he urges community members to practice “Hoosier hospitality.” He said it’s important to remember that members of the LGBTQ have always lived in Huntington, saying that “they’re aunts, uncles, cousins, children, parents. They’re co-workers and neighbors. They’re part of Huntington.”

“It’s a group that is often singled out for abuse and ridicule,” Strick said. “We felt, in response to the request we received from a local group called Huntington Pride ... that it was important for us to make clear that as a city, as an administration, that these are our neighbors and they belong here too.”

For Strick, who served as a pastor before being elected as mayor, his religious beliefs motivated him to make the proclamation.

“For me as a Christian, and a follower of Jesus, the call to hospitality, the call to love and sacrifice, the call to faithfulness and care and compassion toward others is a non-negotiable,” Strick said. “I have to find ways to put that into practice, day in and day out. Regardless of whether or not I agree with something or fully understand it, I know I can listen, and I know I can love.”

The proclamation was made in front of a crowd of around 50 who gathered in the City Council Chambers. Jay Garwood, who uses they/them pronouns, said they heard about the proclamation on Facebook.

“It’s really mind-changing,” Garwood said. “Huntington has been known for being racist, hating on the gays and everything. It warms my heart to find a group of people finally getting together for our rights.”

Recent Huntington North graduate Brody Coblentz said that the proclamation is meaningful to him because it shows that the city is there to support him.

“As a member of the LGBTQ community ... no matter what, you can have something you can rely on,” Coblentz said. “Whether you get kicked out of your house, whether your friends abandon you, whether you get socially ostracized or anything else, your city will still support you and love you.”

Coblentz said that people are “really kind and respecting,” but that “it’s not something you can be completely open about.” He said that while in high school, he and other classmates have experienced bigotry and intolerance.

“There have been moments that have been trying. A few months ago at the high school, there was a big thing with the bathroom incident. A student wanted to have a gender-neutral bathroom, and so they put up a poll, and immediately a counter-poll was put up,” Coblentz said. “So a lot of hate and negative stereotypes were thrown at everybody. I have Pride flags on my car, and during that time my car in the school parking lot ended up getting keyed, but that’s been the worst of it.”

HNHS Principal Rief Gilg, when asked to comment, said that he has “encouraged students that have any issues to come directly to me.”

“I know that any incidents that would be reported to us, we would absolutely look into and handle. I don’t know if that was the case in this situation, I was not involved, but I have absolute confidence that it would’ve been handled, regardless,” Gilg said. “They’re all our kids, and we take great pride in taking care of our kids.”

Ultimately, McCormack hopes that the proclamation will help show members of the LGBTQ community in Huntington the city’s support.

“Today’s real thing was about making sure the communication happened,” McCormack said. “I think the number one problem with the perception of Huntington is some of the negative voices being the loudest. I think that’s something I’m really working on changing, and I think this is a big step for that.”
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