Photo by Joseph Robertson

THEY'RE HERE, they're queer, and they will be patrolling Old Town in reflective safety vests every Saturday night.

Eighteen volunteers filled Portland's Q Center on the night of Monday, July 12, for a training to become the city's first-ever foot patrol on the watch for violence, specifically hate crimes, downtown. The gay bashings that shocked Portland on Memorial Day weekend ["Hate Comes out of the Closet," News, June 10] prompted the formation of the volunteer force, which will roam downtown gay bars in groups of three to five on Saturday nights, calling in trouble to the police.

But the Q Center's decision to work hand-in-hand with police on the patrols has upset some queer activists.

One of the activists originally involved in organizing a response to the attacks, Airick Heater, says he quit participating in behind-the-scenes work after he felt the Q Center was not listening to complaints about police involvement. Another local queer activist known as Katey Pants posted critical comments on the Q Patrol's Facebook page, writing, "I am hoping those that are interested in community patrolling outside of being involved with local authorities can organize themselves."

Despite the split, the mood at the foot patrol training on Monday night was fun and playful. Even Portland Police Officer Sara Westbrook cracked a few jokes and smiles as Office of Neighborhood Involvement staffers spelled out the ground rules for the foot patrol.

"We suggest having 'safe words' to call 911 or leave the scene," said city staffer Stephanie Reynolds.

"Oh, we have experience with that!" quipped a volunteer, as others laughed.

Trainer Mike Boyer also received a round of eyerolls when he said patrollers might have trouble running in high heels and dresses.

The Q Center is calling the first patrol this week a "soft launch" with a second training to come in August, giving time to work out the queer-centric specifics. The first hurdle: There is no "Queer Patrol" on the city's list of types of neighborhood patrols.

This Saturday, the patrol will head out from bar Red Cap Garage clad in pink T-shirts and vests emblazoned with the Q Patrol logo. The highly visible crew is supposed to stop altercations with words rather than weapons: They're not allowed to physically break up fights or arguments. But the group will be armed with a digital camera and a speed dial button to the cops.

"This is an opportunity for the queer community to be allies to the broader community," Q Center Executive Director Kendall Clawson told the group.

Q Center organizer Stephen Cassell defended the group's commitment to working with the police. "I believe that the majority of the community wants to work with the police," said Cassell. "There will always be some people who won't want that and we respect their opinion. How wonderful to have two patrols?"