So, here’s how this incident reportedly started. A council member’s name was spelled incorrectly. A fellow council member commented that the name was similar to a name that’s typically female. Cotterell commented, “Well that’s fine, you’re in Oregon. You can be a boy today and a girl tomorrow.” The city’s recorder, Amy Sowa, replied with a reminder that all those connected to the meeting could hear the council’s comments, but otherwise, the meeting went on like normal and no one addressed it.
At least, no one on the council. Residents, however, stepped up.
“This was not appropriate for a public hearing and does not help in bettering our community, and actually isolates our LGBTQ+ members when made by our leaders,” Lan Ha, a resident who heard Cotterell’s comment, said in an email. Ha asked the council to be more thoughtful and actually stand up to discriminatory remarks. Since then, councilmembers have either apologized for not speaking up or claimed they did not hear the remarks. And for Cotterell? He doubled down on transphobia.
When contacted by the local outlet, Cotterell stated, “I believe it’s a joke, I really do” in reference to gender identity. He described gender identity as “magical thinking” and “foolish thinking.” So, what constitutes gender identity to him?
“If you pull the front of your pants down you can figure out which one you are,” he told the News-Review. “If you have an outie you’re a male, and if you’re an innie you’re a female.”
“If you want to be a female, that’s your deal, but you have to go through a lengthy medical and scientific process,” he continued. “You can’t just get up today and say, ‘Today I’m a woman’ or ‘Today I’m a man’ … Do I care if someone wants to be a male or a female? No. But don’t tell me that you can decide daily what gender you want to be.”
This is a great example of the reality that someone “not caring” or “accepting” marginalized folks is not the same thing as actually being an ally or supporter. It’s also a good time to note that no one needs to go through any length of medical or “scientific” process to affirm their gender (unless they want to, can access it, and so on); trans people are trans, whether or not they are, for example, on hormones or can legally change their name.
“I like panda bears,” he said. “So tomorrow if I self-identify as a panda bear, does that make me a pander bear?” Obviously a rhetorical question—and obviously one with bad faith, dismissive framing.
“You’ll never convince me that what I said was wrong no matter how much training we get,” he said in response to the suggestion that the council holds educational training on gender identity and orientation.
Trans folks report higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation when compared to the cisgender community. Trans folks are also more likely to be evicted and fired because of their gender identity. Even trans youth report higher rates of harassment, bullying, and becoming homeless than their cisgender classmates. Transphobia is inexcusable whether it appears in state laws, federal laws, or off-hand remarks.