JOSHUA TREE — “Transgender people deserve health care, support, justice, safety, love.”
With those words bordered by a rainbow design, a group of Morongo Basin people hope they’ve replaced a message attacking transgender people with one offering support.
“It was an act of love. We wanted to come together and show our neighbors that we love them,” said the spokeswoman for the group, who call themselves the Morongo Basin Neighbors.
The billboard is the same one near the border of Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms that Congressional candidate Tim Donnelly used to take a shot at incumbent Congressman Paul Cook and transgender members of the armed forces during the recent campaign.
Donnelly’s sign referred to a vote by Congressman Paul Cook in 2017. Cook voted against a spending bill amendment that would have ended the Pentagon policy of providing gender-reassignment surgeries if a doctor deemed them medically necessary.
“Ask Paul Cook Why He Voted To Allow Our Military Funds To Be Used For Sex-Change Surgeries!” the billboard read.
The message, along with the accompanying photo of a U.S. Navy veteran who transitioned decades after serving, disturbed a group of neighbors and friends from Twentynine Palms, Joshua Tree and Yucca Valley who decided to do something about it.
“It was a group of neighbors who wanted to do something and to provide some comfort toward the community that we thought the prior board attacked,” said the Morongo Basin Neighbors spokeswoman, who asked to remain anonymous.
“It really did come out of so many of us individually feeling upset about it and understanding how our trans neighbors feel even more upset. We didn’t want to let that happen out here,” she said.
They started brainstorming about what they could do and realized they could simply buy the billboard.
The art was created by a transgender artist who lives in the Hi-Desert — another counterpoint to Donnelly’s billboard, which used a photo without the permission of the photographer, who is gay, or the subject, a trans woman.
“Like every community does, we have trans neighbors out here and the trans community has had a lot of attacks on their rights recently on all levels,” the spokeswoman said. “The billboard was another layer and it was in our community and made people feel attacked in a very personal way in our small town. And that’s not actually representative of who we are as a community.”
While there has been criticism on social media about the new billboard, the spokeswoman said the group has gotten a lot of positive reaction that underscores their message.
“We’ve had a really great response so far. It seems that people are excited,” she said. “We’ve gotten a lot of comments online where people ask if it’s real because it’s so beautiful. We feel proud that we’ve created something that’s meaningful but also added comfort and warmth to the community.”
The group hopes trans people, both living in the Hi-Desert and visiting, see the sign and know they are valued.
“We want to make it visible for those who might feel alone or attacked,” she said
“I think we all felt good to know we had enough neighbors who wanted to do something kind. … We’re proud to live in a small town that would do something like that.”