I grew up in a small town on the Oregon Coast. I never knew a gay person. I thought I was the only one. It was lonely and it was hard. Especially when the teasing term of the day was "fag." I'd cringe and think: "How do they know?"
The thing you can't imagine when you're isolated is someday there will be other people who will have your back. You can't imagine your family, your friends, your neighbors, and your government will stand up for you. And that's important: The validation that comes from being recognized and supported by your community is invaluable and unwavering.
In Oregon, we've worked hard for decades on equal rights, and we've made great strides toward equality. You can say it has gotten better—I'm gay, and I'm a mayor. But we still have a ways to go. I've married a number of couples: I married my mom and her boyfriend, and I married a gay couple here in Oregon, even though they don't get the same legal rights. Cities benefit and societies benefit when they support relationships, be it family members or couples. We're moving into a pivotal 18 months for the queer community in Oregon, when we decide whether we can and will address a fundamental inequity in our state regarding civil marriage. It would mean that I wouldn't just be able to marry people; I'd be able to get married myself—talk about things getting better. It means more families would have more security in the city and state. And with that security comes stability. And with that stability comes creativity and everything a city needs to be robust.
Recently, I led the charge in city council for the City of Portland to include full transgender health benefits for employees. The petty taunts thrown my way on social media echoed the sort of bullying that many LGBTQ youth face: Some commented that I wanted to pass this ordinance so I might transition into "Samantha" or I hoped to turn my boyfriend into a girlfriend. Luckily, I'm an adult who has the support of my family, my friends, my partner, and my colleagues, so I could see those childish barbs for what they were. If I needed to take some arrows for the transgender community, so be it. It gets better when we celebrate the allies and straight folks who stand up for us and when we stick up for others within our own queer community. It gets better when we make it better.