PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — An Aug. 10 directive by the Newberg School Board to ban Black Lives Matter and Pride displays in schools has spurred plenty of controversy. While its legality and method of potential implementation remain unclear, a local couple responded to the decision by constructing a massive Pride billboard out of plywood on their property on Parrett Mountain.
The Pride display — which measures 8 by 16 feet — overlooks Newberg and can be seen clearly from Newberg High School’s football field. It was put together by Erin and Jaybill McCarthy with the help of fellow Reddit users outraged by the school board’s decision.
“I heard about the school board’s decision and I watched the whole four-hour meeting on YouTube afterward,” Erin McCarthy said. “I wish I could get those four hours of my life back. It was absolutely disgusting and I was heartbroken. I grew up in Sandy, which is a very similar town in terms of demographics and skewing conservative, and that was a time where a lot of hateful, bigoted, anti-gay movements were happening in Oregon.
“I have gay family members and I myself identify as bisexual, so I was hurt by that back then and this moment brought back all of those feelings. I just feel terrible for the kids in all those schools who are hearing this totally wrong messaging that who they are is not OK, or the imagery that represents solidarity with who they are is not OK.”
Originally, the plan was to paint the top of the McCarthys’ barn. But logistics and potential lack of visibility to those not in planes, hot air balloons or paragliders led to the decision to build a plywood display facing toward town.
“I thought we should do it on the barn originally, because our barn gets a ton of visibility from above,” Erin McCarthy said. “I thought it would be cool to have the juxtaposition of an all-American symbol of a big red barn with a Pride flag on it. But we decided we had to build something in the pasture because you can see it from the high school, and we wanted to put it somewhere where a lot of people could see it. My husband is great with woodwork, so we decided to paint it on plywood and make a giant billboard of the Pride flag.”
The McCarthys invested in paint supplies and plywood and before they knew it more than a half-dozen strangers were on their property helping put the wooden flag together. After witnessing the school board meeting, building the display along with fellow members of the LGBTQ community and allies was reassuring to Erin McCarthy that plenty of kindhearted people are out there.
“I made that post on Reddit and initially I didn’t really want a bunch of strangers at my house,” she said with a laugh. “But I was really moved by the overwhelming desire to help us do this. Seven beautiful people came out from Portland, Dundee and Forest Grove. There were two transgender ladies who were just amazing, and there were cisgender heteronormative people who are allies, and it was totally a mixing pot of people who thought this was important. We did some crazy, sweaty work, and it was a great time with snacks, music and six hours of working in the heat. But it was so worth it.”
Erin McCarthy said she hopes the display will send a message of love and inclusion to kids who need it after a decision she said will be harmful to them.
She has no interest in changing the minds and hearts of the school board members who voted to ban the BLM and Pride displays.
“It’s clear the people who did this are not interested in intelligent discussion and their minds are not open to be changed,” she said. “I didn’t put it there to change any minds. I put it there for the kids who feel like this is not a safe community for them. There are people in this community who feel like they’re less than or not normal because of who they are. And I want them to know that there are people in the community who love them and there are safe spaces if you know where to look.”