Upper Hutt councillor fires back at letter calling council’s Pride stairs ‘offensive’

An Upper Hutt councillor has fired back in support of Rainbow communities after the council building’s recently-installed Pride stairs were labelled “offensive”.

Temporary Pride steps outside the Upper Hutt City Council's building. Source: Supplied

With the Wellington region celebrating Pride from March 13 to 27, the Upper Hutt City Council marked the event by temporarily painting the city council building’s steps in rainbow colours.

Councillor Dylan Bentley told 1 NEWS most people’s reactions to the steps were “very positive” and “everyone’s telling me how great they look and, actually, a lot of people wished it were permanent”.

In a letter to the council, however, a person wrote: “We find this totally offensive and under whose authority was this allowed.

“Was it a unanimous council decision or was it decided by us as ratepayers? If not, we ask it be removed immediately.

“To us the rainbow is a promise from God, way back in Genesis that he would never flood the Earth again.”

The suggestion to paint the steps was put forward by a council staff member. Because the paint was temporary, the council considered it an operational decision and no public consultation had taken place.

Bentley, a first-term councillor said as someone in a public position, he “felt a duty to stand up for our Rainbow community and to let them know that we have their back”.

“At first I was just going to ignore it, but it really got me frustrated that's how people reacted.”

So, he wrote back: “I’m not sure on which grounds you find this offensive … if your concern is the cost then I can advise you that the cost works out at roughly five cents per ratepayer.”

Bentley offered to send the person a 10 cent coin as compensation.

“However, if your concerns are on religious grounds, then I would say I spent 13 years in Catholic education and my favourite part of the Bible that I’d recommend you revisit is: ‘Love thy neighbour.’”

He signed off: “Happy Pride Month.”

“I expected a few more replies to this nature. So, I had a couple of comments from people saying, ‘Oh, what a waste of time’ or the classic wishy washy stuff. So, I just thought I'd share my reply,” Bentley said of his decision to post his response to the letter on Twitter.

Since then, he said he’d gotten an “outpour” of positive feedback for the steps and for his response.

“It’s quite significant that people see we can stand up for this kind of stuff. People have the right to share their concerns, but it doesn’t mean we have to accept their views on it.

“I’m not in politics to please everyone all the time. I’m here to make a difference and to stand up for what I believe in.”

Bentley said he hadn’t seen the final invoice for painting the steps, but was told it was about $850 to $900.

Money for the steps had come from the council’s art budget, which had already been set aside, he added.

He said council had tried to keep rates increases low to account for Covid-19. Last year, the council had cut its rates increase from the planned 4.68 per cent to a 1.5 per cent increase at most.

This year, it was aiming for a 5 per cent increase.

“It would be quite a different situation if people were facing quite a significant rates increase — we’d be a lot more careful with the purse strings,” Bentley said.

“I just wanted to let them know it didn’t cost an arm and a leg like we always assume council stuff does.

“It may not mean much to those people, but for people who are in the Rainbow community, it actually means quite a bit. So that’s why I responded in that way.”