Baker City Mayor Matt Diaz bowed his head Thursday night and asked God to help the City Council focus on budget issues.
After he ended the opening invocation at the Baker City Council budget meeting, he made a similar request of the audience: The meeting was only about budget discussions and other topics would have to wait until the next regular council meeting, where he said they could bring up concerns about “almost anything.”
Diaz made his speech days after he came under scrutiny for posting anti-LGBTQ+ content on social media.
Diaz recently posted a meme on Facebook with an image of four Pride flags positioned to look like a swastika. The meme’s caption read, “When you join four pride flags you become ultra pride.”
The audience at Baker City Hall, some holding signs, mostly complied with Diaz’s request. The one exception was resident Randy Cox, who skirted around it by keeping his critique centered around the budget.
“I want the budget to be for everybody,” he said. “Not some of us. Not some of us for who we go to church with. Not some of us for whatever we believe in. You work for everybody.”
While the council stuck to the budget Thursday, members of the public have already weighed in on the controversy. The Baker City Herald reported that it received several letters to the editor demanding Diaz’s resignation. The newspaper also included a statement from City Councilor Beverly Calder.
“His words cast shadows far beyond our city limits as this discussion will carry on in social media platforms forever,” she wrote. “This will impact our efforts to attract new businesses as well as the tourism that our communities depend upon. It’s not a small thing, it is a significant breach of fitness regarding public service.”
Calder didn’t comment on Diaz’s post at the meeting but did attach a sign to the council dais that read, “LEAD WITH LOVE.”
Baker City staff also distanced themselves from Diaz’s meme in a Facebook post this week attributed to “Baker City Administration.”
“It is essential to clarify that as a city municipality, we cannot control the personal social media activities of our elected officials,” the post states. “We strongly condemn any form of discriminatory behavior.”
In a statement of his own, Diaz apologized “for any misunderstanding” about racism and stated that he is not a racist nor a Nazi. But he otherwise defended the sentiment behind the meme.
“The post in question was meant to illustrate how the DEI or ‘woke’ ideology is being propagandized and militantly forced on American society and culture using the same psychological tactics used by the Nazi party in the 1930s - 1940s,” he wrote. “It was meant to demonstrate how this movement, under the guise of inclusion and affirmation, is attacking the very foundation of America’s Judeo-Christian values, a movement that some of our citizens have been thoroughly indoctrinated into.”
He later added that he had “no hate for those who choose a different lifestyle, religion, or sexual preference than my own.”
Diaz did not respond to a request for comment from OPB.
His post came only a few days before Baker City’s third annual Pride Walk, an event meant to celebrate the local LGBTQ+ community. The event is organized by Baker County Safe Communities Coalition and New Directions Northwest, an addiction treatment nonprofit. Haley Huekman, a prevention supervisor with New Directions and a Pride Walk organizer, declined to comment about the mayor’s post and comments, but explained why her organization puts on the event.
“Pride is about accepting and celebrating those who are in the LGBTQ+ community. It values tolerance, acceptance and inclusion,” she wrote in an email. “For several years the Baker County Safe Communities Coalition has put out ‘You Matter’ signs around Baker County. This campaign is to remind community members that we all have a place here.”
Some community members are already thinking about the next steps. Jeana Phillips, the owner of Betty’s Books in Baker City, said she reached out to the Pendleton chapter of LGBTQ+ support organization PFLAG and the TransActive Gender Project at Lewis & Clark College in Portland to see if they could help organize a community forum about LGBTQ+ community in Baker City.
Diaz is relatively new to the City Council, having been elected to the body in 2022. A Navy veteran who owns a barbecue food truck and has experience as a pastor, Diaz wrote in a candidate statement that he wanted to enter Baker City politics to get the city past “band aid solutions.”
“I think fresh eyes are needed,” he wrote. “Having a Biblical and Constitutional world view gives me those fresh and yet traditional eyes to offer long term insight to some of those issues.”
Diaz competed with seven other candidates for four seats on the council and ended up receiving the most votes. The City Council selects the mayor rather than voters, and the council first chose Calder to fill the position in early 2023. But the council stripped her of the title in April after she wrote a public letter critical of the city manager, according to the Herald. The council then elevated Diaz to mayor, a mostly ceremonial position tasked with running council meetings and representing the city at events.
Not everyone in Baker City is eager to condemn Diaz. Councilor Nathan Hodgson told the Baker City Herald that most of the feedback he heard about Diaz “split rather predictably along political lines” and said he wanted to talk further with members of the LGBTQ+ community.