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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Reading the Mayor's Homophobic Voicemails, So You Don't Have To

Posted by Sarah Mirk on Wed, Jan 4, 2012 at 3:24 PM

I've been regularly chronicling the mayor's voicemails from citizens, because Sam Adams' inbox is a hilarity goldmine. But every once in a while, amid the angry rants about compost and bicycles, a voicemail makes my stomach churn. These are the ones where a constituent's tirade against sewer devolves into a tirade against "that queer."

Mayor Sam Adams, as the New Yorker recently noted very awkwardly, is openly gay. Just as the chance to leave an anonymous voicemail for the mayor can be a revealing window into the vocal portions of the city's views on transportation and police budgets, it's an occasionally disturbing glimpse of the true feelings of Portlanders about homosexuality. We think of ourselves as living in a progressive haven, but take away the face-to-face accountability and all sorts of dark things can come bubbling up.

So how homophobic are Portlanders, given the chance to rant anonymously at a powerful, openly gay person?

I went through and counted up all the voicemails from September, October, and November and then picked out all the ones with homophobic language. The tally? Of 397 voicemails, only seven were homophobic. That includes ones with outright homophobic slurs ("You need to shut down the protestors. Watch your ass, you faggot!") to more subtle slurs against his sexuality ("You have to take time out from chasing boys and worrying about plastic bags!"). Another two voicemails had sexually derisive language that wasn't specifically homophobic ("Grow some balls!" etc). All in all, that's just over two percent of voicemails slandering the mayor sexually.

They may rag on Sam for all sorts of reasons, but 98 percent of irate Portlanders won't call out his sexual orientation as one of 'em. Is that good or bad? Clearly, zero percent homophobia is the goal here, but I think this is surprisingly low. Then again, I'm a cynic.

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