We Aren't There Yet 

But We Can and Will Change the Face of Oregon

Where are we? The short, yet obvious, answer is, "in the middle of a difficult and historic movement." As an involved volunteer with Basic Rights Oregon (BRO), I have seen firsthand how the GLBT community is gaining the power we need to win in the legislature, courts, at the ballot, and more. But we aren't there yet.

It's been a rough few years. We've experienced incredible joy, yet also extreme loss. It is a pattern that will no doubt continue as we struggle for full equality here in Oregon and nationally.

Some might view the movement as stalled or in limbo, but I personally don't see it that way—I see that we're working hard, and moving forward. We may not have a major crisis underway like a ballot measure, but there are major efforts taking place to create a state of equality.

As Roey Thorpe, BRO's executive director, prepares to depart for a national role, there is, of course, mixed reactions. I've heard people praise Thorpe's decision, though the majority of the community is saddened. We are no doubt losing an amazing leader who has done great things for Oregon—she's helped bring a little-known organization to the political and legal forefront. But there is a plus side: We now have the opportunity to bring a new leader to Oregon, one we have never seen the likes of before. This will breathe new life into the movement at a critical moment.

And where is that movement headed? To the Oregon legislature, the Oregon courts and—dare I say it—to the ballot: I'm hoping for a proactive, pro-equality ballot measure in 2008.

After the bitter, historic battle in the 2005 legislative session for Senate Bill 1000, I think that Oregon's gay community is now realizing the effects that the lawmakers in Salem have on our lives. During the 2005 legislative session, House Speaker Karen Minnis blocked SB1000—we had the votes to pass it. This session we need to secure a strong pro-GLBT majority so that if we run into a person like Minnis again, we will not have the same problem. People seem to be prioritizing elections as an important component of the multifaceted work we have to do.

The effort by BRO and their volunteers to change the legislative make-up of Oregon is one of the biggest undertakings in the organization's 10-year history. Another large part of the movement has shifted to grassroots organizing and a lot of behind-the-scenes work. For example, right now there are a number of cases working through the court system—taking on issues like child custody and equal benefits—with more to follow. While we can't be certain of the court outcomes, the fights matter almost as much as the decisions: It's our chance to make these issues visible to the public, and maybe create change in people's hearts and minds.

Looking forward, the 2007 legislative session will likely see a number of pro-GLBT bills in both the Oregon House and the Senate. Last session's bills mobilized a huge number of people, and that number will only grow next year. We also learned a lot last session and can use that to our advantage next year.

In 2008, it looks as if we will see Lon Mabon rear his ugly head yet again—with not one, but two anti-GLBT ballot measures. One will be just like Measures 13 and 9 (AKA "no promo homo"), though this time around Mabon has added transgender to his list of targets. And Mabon's other proposed initiative would allow a student to wear a T-shirt with hate speech on it to school, even though this would disrupt education and cause a hostile and dangerous learning environment in Oregon's schools. (You would think that after Mabon has lost twice on the ballot to add discrimination to the Oregon Constitution, he'd realize that he will never win.) On the other hand, the threat is real—I believe that both initiatives will gather plenty of signatures over the next year and a half to get on the ballot.

Measure 36 cost just under three million dollars to fight. Taking on both of these Mabon measures will cost well over that. And a pro-equality ballot measure campaign in 2008 will cost at least that much and probably a lot more. So we, as a community, need to begin to plan for these fights, and when the time comes, give time or money to wage this defensive war against hate and intolerance.

All in all, I believe that we are in a great place. Our community is more visible than ever and increasingly more powerful. There will be a number of wins and losses in the coming years, but one has to expect and understand this. We are in the middle of the largest and most controversial civil-rights battle of our generation. In each of these historic movements, the wins are hard earned, by individuals coming together to give of their time, money and energy. That is the task before us now, but we are already seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. My prediction? Over the next 10 years this movement can and will completely change the face of Oregon.

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