Our communities have gone through a lot this past year. As part of our annual Queer issue, the Mercury is highlighting six LGBTQ+ Portlanders making an impact on the city right now. Their collective stories tie together decades of experiences and span the LGBTQ+ spectrum. These people are leaders in sciences, the arts, and nonprofits, and are united by common threads, including a word several of our subjects used independently of one another: resilience. Some might be familiar to you, others not, but together they represent a strong future for Portland.
“Resilient” is the first word Cameron Whitten (pronouns: all) uses to describe themselves and the Q Center, but it wasn’t always that way. Almost a year ago, Whitten was ready to cut their losses and leave Portland after finding themselves exhausted after almost a decade of living in the city and engaging in activism for numerous causes, including anti-racism, housing rights, and public transportation. Whitten says they were fired from their advocate position on the City of Portland’s East Portland Action Plan for being “too dark and too honest,” and was feeling unaccepted by a city that benefitted from their activism with Occupy Portland. Whitten stayed in the city to start Brown Hope, the racial justice nonprofit that organizes Reparations Power Hour. Later, the Q Center came calling.
Whitten has always seen activism and education as a life calling, but found that it also helped him recover from trauma. At 18, Whitten came to Portland from Virginia to escape a dysfunctional home environment that was caused by an abusive father who had left them three years prior. A client of the nonprofit Outside In, Whitten was homeless before gaining access to transitional housing and enough stability to start figuring out their life. Over time, Whitten graduated from Portland Community College and Portland State, paying it forward along the way.
After just 10 months on the job, Whitten is the Q Center’s most senior member, and their leadership is slowly rebuilding the LGBTQ+ community’s trust in the center. “We needed to reset our story and culture so people could feel welcome here again,” Whitten said. For example, in February, the Q Center hosted a well-attended forum responding to right-wing violence targeting queer-presenting Portlanders. Whitten came to the Q Center with the word “resilience,” and the Q Center has adopted it as one of its newest core values.
Editor's note: Some details of this story have been corrected for clarity, and are different than in our print edition.
Follow Whitten on Twitter and Instagram: @CameronWhitten. For information on Brown Hope, visit brownhope.org. For information on the Q Center, including its Resilience Campaign, visit pdxqcenter.org. Q Center: 4115 N Mississippi, 503-234-7837
BriAnna Rosen & E.M. Fuller,
In their efforts to change the commercial gallery model, BriAnna Rosen (she/her) and E.M. Fuller (she/her) treat artists the way they want to be treated: with a love of art that’s matched by their love for one another. Fuller Rosen Gallery, their contemporary arts space, opened six months ago in the Ford Building, providing emerging artists a place for solo shows that focus on important current issues. It’s a curatorial priority that’s intentionally open to interpretation—and gives art lovers of all levels an experience that’s hard to find elsewhere.
“[Effecting change is] a very Obama-era term, and one I take on wholeheartedly,” Rosen says of the gallery. “That was a major thought in my mind: ‘I hope this effects change—otherwise what’s the point?’ Art is the last place where you can have refuge, hope, resilience, and can effect change... whether it’s affecting how someone moves through a space, the colors they’re seeing, the environment they’re in, or what they’re hearing. You can literally be effecting change in people’s bodies.”
It was only in recent years that both women came out of the closet, helping one another reveal their true selves to their Southern-influenced military families. They met in grad school: Fuller was an academic artist, and Rosen a filmmaker who couldn’t see herself getting into advertising or Hollywood. They’ve worked through cringe-inducing moments of growth together, emerging stronger for the experience. They feared what would happen to their art if they broke up while in Killjoy Collective, a multi-disciplinary group of artists united in part by Rosen’s organizational skills. Instead, the opposite happened: Killjoy Collective disbanded on its own, and Rosen and Fuller grew closer.
While contemporary art is still saturated with straight, cisgender white men, people challenging these norms—like Rosen and Fuller—are crucial to the survival of the art scene. Through Fuller Rosen Gallery, artists including Angélica Maria Millán Lozano, Wiley, Diana Palermo, and Lehuauakea Fernandez have held solo shows using a variety of mediums to address both the global and the personal.
Follow Fuller Rosen Gallery on Instagram @fullerrosen_gallery, E.M. Fuller @e.m.fuller, and BriAnna Rosen @breezyrosen. More gallery information at fullerrosen.com. Fuller Rosen Gallery: 2505 SE 11th, Ste. 106, 503-806-5055
Writer, Artist, Fingerprint Analyst
Blazing trails has always been part of Zeloszelos Marchandt’s life (they/them, he/him). Raised to be unlimited, Marchandt spent their teens searching for the best underground raves and crying through movies (which they still do). While their original trajectory was to do opera, performance art, and journalism full-time, they were thrown off course by financial hardships, a divorce, the closure of their first college, and bigotry that included racism, sexism, and transphobia. “I realized I needed to acquire a new vocabulary to better represent myself and others before continuing on with an iron fist,” Marchandt said in an email.
Marchandt developed an artistic portfolio including performance, opera, and photography. They turned out journalism for outlets including
Willamette Week, Travel Portland, KBOO, and PQ Monthly, and wrote copy for clients including Intel. They graduated this year from Prescott College with a degree in journalism and multimedia. During their last two terms, they assisted medical examiners at a mortuary, developing their career along the traditional pathway into forensics work. Today, Marchandt is a fingerprint analyst for the State of Oregon, following a grueling, competitive six-month process of passing rigorous tests and background checks.
“There are people working in positions like mine or next to mine who probably tell themselves they know what’s important and have my best interest at heart as a black trans person, but they don’t. That’s a very real obstacle all day, every day,” Marchandt said. “There’s also the bureaucratic game of getting multiple agencies and departments on the same page. The FBI recognizes the X identifier, but doesn’t define it as ‘other,’ ‘queer,’ or ‘trans.’ The definition of the X is ‘unknown gender,’ which is terrible. I’ve also heard of certain medical examiners refusing to honor a trans person’s pronouns. So it’s a really good idea to have an advanced health directive and have people who care about you put pressure on the willfully ignorant to do what’s right after you’re deceased.”
Marchandt is happy with their life, despite the challenges that have come with going their own way. “I love learning, have a passion for celebrating life, and believe we should use it while we’ve got it because it’s temporary,” Marchandt said. “The work I do reminds me of that every day. I’m going to keep doing what I love regardless of the bad apples that are out there.”
Follow Zeloszelos Marchandt on Instagram @mxmarchandt. For more updates on Zeloszelos’ writing, art and career, visit themarchandt.com.
Tori Williams Douglass,
Born on Portland’s West Side, Tori Williams Douglass’s (she/her) first love was writing. Growing up in an evangelical Christian household, Williams used writing to escape her fundamentalist experience. And while she developed a love of neuroscience through biology courses at Clackamas Community College and works as a research assistant in this field, that hasn’t slowed down her writing, which she uses to challenge racist and homophobic ideologies. “It took me a very long time to gain the language necessary to articulate how immoral and unethical it is to strip someone of their dignity and autonomy, because that was not language we ever used in the church,” she said in an email.
Williams Douglass’ writing style—a mixture of academic and personal, humorous and serious—is most closely associated with Exvangelical culture, former evangelicals who still hold strong spiritual beliefs. She considers her 2017 essay, “The Day I Learned White Christians Hate Me”—inspired by the 2014 murder of Michael Brown—to be her most impactful work to date.
“The church was committed to maintaining the norm, the status quo, the current disparities that we see in every corner of our society. It was about control, power, and submitting to authority,” Williams Douglass said. “It’s hard to gain clarity when you’ve been raised in those deeply religious circles and your entire support system resides within them. The response to the events in Ferguson let me know loud and clear that the people I sat next to in the pews every Sunday and Wednesday would be perfectly unbothered to support the police if I was murdered by a cop.”
Writing also helped Williams Douglass embrace her sexuality. “I’ve known since I was 18 or 19 that I was attracted to men and women, but because of my upbringing, I don’t even think I knew the word bisexual then, and I pushed it to the back of my mind,” she said. “I couldn’t entertain it because in my church community that was considered sinful. In the meantime, I’ve been able to work on healthy boundaries and go to therapy. So by the time I started writing and speaking about LGBTQ+ inclusion, I was also realizing that sexual attraction for me had never been contingent on what was in someone’s pants. For me, attraction is attraction, and gender expression doesn’t have any bearing on that.”
Follow Tori Williams Douglass on Twitter @ToriGlass. Her website, toriglass.com, includes the White Homework series, which Williams Douglass compiled as required reading for white people who ask questions about social change.
Following this year’s cancellation of the Portland Latinx Pride Festival, there’s suddenly extra pressure on drag queen Kaina Martinez (pronounced Kuh-ee-nah, he/him, she/her) to step up and provide for his community. Latin Flavor—Martinez’s weekly Whiskey Bar dance party—was just nominated as one of Portland’s best dance parties as well as receiving promotional support from the Portland Latinx Pride Festival, who after taking the year off are now concentrating efforts on similar events, including Portland’s waterfront Pride Festival and Hillsboro’s Pride Party. Martinez attended every Latinx Pride Festival since moving to Portland 10 years ago and has since joined the committee.
Originally from Venezuela, Martinez moved with his mom and brother to Arkansas as a teen, enduring a lot of culture shock while learning a new language and questioning his sexuality. “I didn’t know what racism felt like until I lived there, but I also discovered drag in Arkansas,” Martinez said in an email. “Believe it or not, the Miss Gay America Pageant was owned by someone in Arkansas for over 30 years. Very confusing state.”
Kaina Martinez is based on a Venezuelan soap opera character (a warrior woman from the jungle) she watched as a child and the persona was conceived in 2003 after attending her first drag show.
Today, Latin Flavor is the realization of Martinez’s dream, which did not come easy. She’s dealt with rejection from gay bars, the failure of two previous iterations, and complaints over her use of “Latinx” from people who prefer more gendered terms.
“[Latin Flavor] is not about me and my drag persona; some nights I don’t even perform or dress in drag,” Martinez said. “I work the door just to meet people and make sure everyone is having a good time. There’s this amazing feeling when I look at the dance floor and see everyone shaking their hips and singing along to a song they knew from their home country. That to me is the greatest accomplishment.”
Follow Kaina Martinez on Instagram @itskainamartinez and Latin Flavor @latinflavorpdx. Kaina’s Pride plans include partying with RuPaul’s Drag Race meme queen, Miss Vanjie. Tickets at brownpapertickets.com/event/4231116.