Editor’s Note: The video used in this article has been edited for length. The full 25-minute video can be found here.
COTTAGE GROVE – A school board candidate forum in Cottage Grove this week turned physical in response to a woman’s chant denouncing anti-transgender rhetoric.
The forum was hosted by Kids-4-Success, a state-wide political action committee that has endorsed school board candidates across Lane County, including Eugene 4J, Fern Ridge, Bethel, Siuslaw, Springfield and South Lane districts.
Security footage shows a woman being surrounded by two men before being shoved, grabbed and running out of the building. The video obtained by The Chronicle shows an aerial view from an overhead camera in the Cottage Grove Library, where the forum was held.
The conflict was prompted by a question from Bryan Parsons, a middle school teacher within the South Lane School District who was recently barred from speaking on “transgender issues” during SLSD meetings.
He posed the question: “Should parents be informed if their children request to use alternate pronouns, as long as they are not in physical danger?”
Duane Taddei, one of two SLSD board candidates at the forum, began responding in agreement.
That’s when Venice Mason, an activist in the Cottage Grove area, stood up, pointed her thumbs down, and then began chanting, “stop spreading lies about trans children.”
“I really felt that this question (Parsons asked) was inappropriate,” Mason said after the incident. “There’s policies regarding these things. They’re outside the scope of influence of a school board member in the first place.”
Mason’s chants prompt two men, Richard Secord and Dale Gangl, who are standing in the back of the room and leaning against a cabinet, to move toward her, pushing her hands down to her sides.
Secord and Gangl were asked to be “security for the event,” according to Ibra Taher, moderator of the panel and Kids-4-Success founder.
Eleven seconds into the incident, community member Shiloh Glaspell moves forward to intervene and is seen being shoved backwards by the two men. Another community member, Jan Ogsbury, attempts to stand between Mason and the men and is pushed backwards.
At this point, Mason is seen backing away, and community member Amy Merryday, having heard “animal grunting noises,” from outside enters through the central doors of the room.
Merryday is seen standing between the men and Mason, being grabbed from behind, and her arms being pulled backwards. Merryday is seen being knocked to the ground.
About 30 seconds after the altercation begins, Mason flees the room.
Once out of the room, she said she called the Cottage Grove Police Department and was taken in an ambulance to the emergency room.
About 10 minutes after the first incident, the room began to clear and another community member, who was attending another meeting next door, entered the room and began filming.
In the video, his phone is seen being knocked out of his hand by Secord and his arms being pulled behind him by Taddei, who escorted him out of the room.
“The library and the community center are supposed to be safe places,” Mason said.
After the incident, Mason said that, “I’m a little sore and a little tired, but overall very grateful that the violence didn’t escalate further. And that’s due to the help of no fewer than four women who were also all assaulted, that put themselves bodily between me and harm. I’m so grateful to them.”
CGPD Chief Jeff Groth said that there was only one officer on duty that night.
“We had one officer on duty that walked into a small melee and was doing the best they could to maintain peace,” Groth said. “In a perfect world, when we are staffed, we’d have a couple of officers respond to that and be able to sort through things a little bit better.”
Groth said this is an active and ongoing case, and that no additional details will be released. Mason said she’s intent upon pressing assault charges. At press time, she said she has not been contacted by CGPD to give a formal statement.
“I’m deeply invested in our community remaining a place that is safe for everyone. To me, the truth matters. And when people are telling lies that damage and harm our community, it puts our children at risk,” she said.
On KNND radio the morning after the incident, Secord told the station host, “They had no business being there. Everybody backs up from these people constantly and when you back up, they take a step forward and get worse. Where’s it gonna end?”
Secord denied any violence occurred at the forum.
Taher said one of the key principles of the PAC is “parent’s rights.”
“We need to give parents the final say in what the kids are learning in school, especially when it comes to controversial issues, political issues, moral issues, ideological issues, ” Taher said. “The ideological issues, like culture, family, marriage, and sexualities are included. Sexuality is in the moral category.”
According to campaign finance data, the PAC’s donations have not exceeded the $3,500 minimum reporting requirement.
Ona Secord is a parent in the SLSD who planned to take her daughter to the forum.
“I was really looking forward to it,” she said. “I wanted to attend but when I was informed that there were protestors, I was unable to as I had my daughter and I won’t subject her to what was happening.”
Secord says that due to the lack of “empathy and willingness to listen and involve parents,” she has chosen to join a homeschool in Creswell.