This article is part of the Mercury's 2020 all-digital Queer Week coverage.
Portland City Council candidate Dan Ryan is the former CEO of All Hands Raised (a nonprofit dedicated to improving racial inequity in Multnomah County education) and is currently in a runoff with Loretta Smith for the council seat vacated following the death of Commissioner Nick Fish. That special election will be held on August 11.
Ryan is also an openly gay person who is HIV-positive, which makes him well-suited to comment on this very complicated and contentious moment in time. We spoke with Ryan about his thoughts on the effects of COVID-19 on the queer community, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the intersection of the two.
MERCURY: With the majority of Pride events cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, what concerns do you have for LGBTQ visibility in Portland and across the nation?
RYAN: We must continue to prioritize Public Health as we work through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Think of all the events cancelled in February (Black History Month) and March (Women’s History Month) to help limit the virus from spreading—we’ve all had to adapt to the current reality, and so will Pride 2020. From my perspective, a large part of the Gay Rights Movement is based on amplifying the joy of loving who you are naturally meant to love, to love who you are, and to celebrate that universal right.
This year we have an opportunity to experience Pride alongside the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s about our community coming together to address systemic racism and discrimination, to build a better Portland and nation. It’s inspired me to see young, fierce Black Portlanders from our queer community be leaders in BLM. Pride is about both celebration as well as fighting for social justice. Our visibility can’t be quarantined. Our country needs Pride at this time!
Do you think the LGBTQ community has been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic?
The data shows how much the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately hurt communities of color and our most vulnerable populations, which includes many who are LGBTQIA+. I do not think, however, the pandemic has damaged what defines and connects us as a community.
When I become an elder with HIV serving on the Portland City Council during COVID-19, I will be a leader responsible for taking action during a massive and complicated public health crisis. I bring personal experience and perspective. having lived through the uncertainty and fear of the AIDS crisis in the 80s and 90s—the LGBTQIA+ community has learned to survive and thrive in spite of feeling unsafe and uncertain in the dominant culture. During Pride and beyond, we can do the same in support of those most impacted during COVID-19: our Black and brown sisters and brothers, especially the elders. We are a movement based on love, acceptance and courage. Now is our time to take action and be the helpers and advocates we know how to be.
Do you see any comparisons to the Stonewall marches and today’s protests against police brutality? How far have we progressed?
Social movements in general, as well as comparisons made between them, are complicated. So my answer is yes and no. Both movements are grounded in a fight for social justice and the end to systemic discrimination. I never forget that Stonewall started when Black and brown trans women and other community activists had the courage to fight back against the NYC police violently raiding and harassing gay bars, one of the only places for us to gather at the time. This movement grew and evolved over the decades, despite the well-documented, explicit violence and discrimination by the dominate culture on LGBTQIA+ people. Our movement was a catalyst for hate crime legislation, HIV funding, and marriage equality, among many other achievements. None of this happened overnight.
The current wave of protests was sparked by the murder of George Floyd (and so many other innocent Black folks) at the hands of the police. The murder was a well-documented, horrific act of racist violence. However, it did not surprise anyone who is Black or from a community that has experienced police violence and the abuse of power. Today BLM is being led by Black community leaders, many of whom are young and queer. Based on what I’ve seen, local marches are some of the most diverse in the city’s history, which is amazing! Standing alongside them are white allies who are starting to understand their privilege and responsibility. We are seeing another massive movement fighting for social justice and reforms, and the depth and breadth of support across our community continues to grow. I strongly encourage BLM and Pride participants to come together this June, and beyond, to unite in building a better future.
If elected in August, do you plan on using your platform as an elected official to support and signal boost the LGBTQ+ community?
Yes, as an out queer with HIV, I will represent. I promise to all the queer youth and many others on the street protesting that they will have my attention and support as a Portland City Council commissioner. I also want to make it clear how much work there is ahead of us across many fronts. My gender fluid Mexican indigenous fiancé, for example, reminds me daily that gender fluid acceptance from Portlanders needs to radically catch up with queer acceptance.
It’s such a challenging, spirit-dampening time for the LGBTQ+ community, and even more so for queer people of color. Do you have any message for them?
The LGBTQIA+ community is resilient, and it will take more than canceling a parade to bring us down. We march to celebrate and honor, and we can and will find new ways to do that. But we haven't reached true equality for all people, and we must continue to organize and advocate. To quote the poet Emma Lazarus, “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.”
The LGBTQIA+ community members I know, myself included, recognize the importance of keeping the spotlight on the BLM movement so we can achieve real police reform and stop the killing of Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement.