Planning commission meetings in Sammamish are mostly sleepy affairs, with commissioners often digging deep into policies such as the city’s land use and transportation. On June 1, the community was shocked when one of the commissioners, Wassim Fayed, used the meeting to criticize the city for celebrating Pride Month.
Fayed resigned from the commission after sparking a broad backlash from people across Sammamish.
The incident reflected a nationwide debate over LGBTQ rights, where many conservative states have recently moved to limit everything from instruction on sexual orientation in schools to gender-affirming health care and drag shows in public.
During the planning commission meeting, Fayed said those who identify as LGBTQ are “not a minority people who are disenfranchised.” He added that they are “promoting diseases and infestation into the mind of our kids in schools.”
But in a city in which its own mayor, Kali Clark, identifies as part of the LGBTQ community, there was a significant negative reaction against Fayed’s remarks. The result was a swift fall for a man who was once widely admired as a local business owner. Fayed owns Lebanese restaurant Tanoor, which was voted as Sammamish’s “Best Business of the Year” in 2022.
On June 5, the City of Sammamish released a statement condemning Fayed’s comments and announcing his resignation.
“While we acknowledge the Commissioner’s right to free speech, we were shocked to hear the comments made and we strongly condemn them,” the City of Sammamish wrote on its website. The city also promised to “continue its commitment to fostering an inclusive and respectful environment for all residents.”
Members of the community also spoke out against Fayed’s words at the June 6 city council meeting, packing a usually empty City Hall.
“The LGBTQ+ community… are our neighbors, our friends, our loved ones,” said Gaston Skaggs, a 22-year resident of Sammamish. “When he attacked the LGBTQ community he was attacking our community, and I’m here to say that hate has no place here in Sammamish.”
The community backlash also spread across social media in the days following Fayed’s controversial remarks. On Facebook, many users posted about their disgust at Fayed’s comments, expressing their disappointment at the use of his city position to spread what they considered was hate speech.
When contacted by The Seattle Times on Tuesday, Fayed stood by his statements, saying that he has “never discriminated against anyone.”
During the planning commission meeting, Fayed justified his comments by citing his Muslim faith. But the Sammamish Muslim Association (SMA) also condemned Fayed’s comments. In a statement released on June 6, SMA wrote that Fayed’s “words were harmful and are not representative of our association or the wider Muslim community in Sammamish and beyond.”
Calls for boycotting Tanoor picked up steam, with negative reviews inundating Tanoor’s various social media pages. Yelp had to shut down Tanoor’s reviews page, not allowing for any more user posts.
“There is no room for such hate by a public figure representing Sammamish on a planning commission or as a restaurateur in Sammamish and Seattle,” wrote local resident Heather Murphy-Raines on Facebook. “I had fond memories of their warm babaganoush and soft pita and fragrant dishes, but now all I can taste is hate.”
Tanoor also produces hummus and Lebanese cuisine for sale at local grocers. On June 8, PCC Community Markets pulled Tanoor’s entire product line from its shelves. Some local residents have also called on Metropolitan Market to do the same.
In a show of support for the LGBTQ community, local nonprofit Plateaupians For Peace organized a Pride rally at City Hall on June 9. Dozens of people attended despite the rain, waving pride flags and signs to cars driving by on 228th Avenue.
“I feel empowered by the absolute solidarity and outpouring of support in this community,” said Mayor Clark at the June 6 City Council meeting. “It is [at] times like these where not only do I see how far we have come, but how much work we still have left to do.”