The Echo View: Leaders should be held accountable

By, The Colby Echo staff

On Oct. 1, Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro (R) announced his intention to declare Oct. 14 Columbus Day once more. This move was in response to Maine Governor Janet Mills’s (D) April signing of a law that changed Maine’s recognition of Columbus to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. 

Isgro’s official Mayoral Proclamation describes Columbus as having “inspired countless others to pursue their dreams and convictions in the face of seemingly insurmountable doubts and adversity.” Coincidentally, this exact speech was used by President Donald Trump in his Oct. 6 2017 Presidential Proclamation regarding Columbus Day. 

Accurate historical accounts of Columbus’s landing in America reflect the genocidal repercussions his voyage had on indigenous populations. Columbus is fairly well-known for his brutal treatment of the Taíno people on the island of Hispaniola, and for his role in the beginning of generations of mistreatment of indigenous people in America. The irony should not be lost that the same man whom Isgro claimed espoused the values of universal equality among humanity was the foundation of centuries of persecution.

In changing the title of Indigenous Peoples’ Day to Columbus Day, Isgro missed the point. Indigenous Peoples’ Day doesn’t aim to erase contributions made by Italian Americans–a group he identified in his proclamation “whose contribution to American culture, business, and civic life have been of unquestionable value to our diverse shared history.” Rather, it strives to halt the erasure of a bloody chapter in American history that is too often forgotten, and whose ramifications are too often overlooked. We feel that this action truly illuminates Isgro’s lack of awareness of the experiences and the violent history attached to the land he now represents. Further, we believe Isgro is routinely dismissive of the lived experiences of people he cannot relate to.

Indeed, this rift was apparent in a comment he posted on his personal Facebook account. Isgro commented on an article regarding the MaineCare announcement that it would be expanding coverage to provide transgender medical care. 

“So we get to pay for people to mutilate their genitals? Great,” Isgro said. 

Regardless of the comment’s intended audience, an individual who speaks in such a dismissive manner is not someone we want to represent our community and our values. While we recognize that the majority of students are not long term residents of the Waterville community, we nevertheless believe that it is our civic duty to hold public officials responsible for discriminatory and prejudicial statements. Beyond the obvious prejudicial ideology behind this comment, it also exposes Isgro’s habitual hypocrisy. 

In Isgro’s Proclamation reinstating Columbus Day, he emphasized the foundational American belief  “that all men are created equal.” Voicing this kind of bigoted opposition to the MaineCare announcement is antithetical to Isgro’s statement of equality for all. Evidently, he believes that transgender individuals are not worthy of the freedom of bodily autonomy, especially not on the taxpayer’s dime. 

When asked in an email from the Echo for clarification of the Facebook post, Isgro claimed that “while the comment was tongue in cheek there is a serious undertone. Gender dysphoria is a serious condition that leads to higher rates of depression and suicide, and now we are seeing the stories of post-sex reassignment regrets only compounding these issues. We should be working to help these people but to do so we need a much deeper understanding than our current climate is giving the issue.” 

In making this comment, Isgro reduces being transgender from a legitimate human identity to a mental illness necessitating treatment. He claims that transgender people often suffer from remorse surrounding post-sex reassignment surgery, an assertion not borne out by relevant scientific literature. Isgro’s ignorance in this area, given his prominent role in Waterville society and politics, will only cultivate prejudice and allow bigotry to fester. 

Isgro has a storied history of controversial, prejudicial, and discriminatory statements. We feel that holding our public officials to a high moral and ethical standard is the duty of any news source. Isgro has repeatedly exhibited qualities and advanced views irreconcilable with our community’s principles and values, and we believe that these opinions must be confronted and challenged to truly say that we oppose prejudice and discrimination in all forms.