Historic landmarks meeting in Oregon stopped by racist, homophobic slurs

Mount Olivet Baptist Church in North Portland is up for consideration by the State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation. (Oregon Parks and Recreation Department)

SALEM – Racist and homophobic slurs interrupted a virtual session last week of the State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation, causing the two-day meeting to be canceled.

The interruption happened less than an hour after the six-hour meeting started. Chris Havel, spokesman for the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, said the committee had progressed through a few items when one person or more started typing racist and homophobic slurs in the chat feature of Zoom and in the question-and-answer section. 

They also posted the home addresses of some of the nine committee members, who are appointed by the governor.

Participants were shocked and horrified, Havel said. Organizers quickly shut the meeting down.

He declined to provide more details, saying the department had referred the matter to Oregon State Police for investigation of a crime.

“We’ve sent all of the information to them,” Havel said, including the recording of the Zoom meeting.

A police spokesperson did not immediately respond Friday afternoon to a request for comment.

“There is zero room in the public square for this vile behavior,” according to a statement from Lisa Sumption, Parks and Recreation Department director. “I apologize to our committee members and the people bringing nominations forward for having to endure this attack.”

The meeting was open to the public and registration was not required. Participants could simply click on the Zoom link, which was posted on the department’s website. Participants’ emails and names were not verified, Havel said.

“You have to enter something, but it doesn’t have to be your name,” Havel said.

The committee meets three times a year. It includes members who are Black, Native American, Latino and Asian. Havel said the meetings are often well attended. 

This meeting was supposed to review adding nine sites to the National Register of Historic Places. They included three African American buildings: the Mount Olivet Baptist Church in North Portland, Dean’s Beauty Salon and Barber Shop in Northeast Portland and Golden West Hotel in Northwest Portland. 

The South Park Blocks in Portland and the Burford-Stanley House in Polk County were also scheduled to be discussed.

The department is currently reviewing procedures, including the use of Zoom. The committee will meet again to finish its agenda but the department wants to be sure that everyone is safe. No date has been set.

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