Just two decades ago, Oregon was ground zero for hateful anti-LGBTQ ballot measures. It was during these dark days that Basic Rights Oregon was formed by local activists to defend against these attacks and fight for fairness.
Piece by piece, Basic Rights Oregon turned the tide on hate. We racked up dozens of local victories. Our first big statewide victory came 11 years later, in 2007, when we passed comprehensive nondiscrimination protections and domestic partnership recognition during the same legislative session.
We followed with antibullying legislation, expanded access to health care for transgender Oregonians, banned youth conversion therapy, and won the freedom to marry. Just 23 years after the Oregon Citizens Alliance sought to criminalize us with Measure 9, which would have codified LGBTQ discrimination into our state’s constitution, Oregon was rated the second most LGBTQ-friendly state in the country by the Movement Advancement Project.
Yet despite the wedding bells and all our progress, the phones at Basic Rights Oregon have not stopped ringing. Far from it.
Every week we hear from transgender people in every corner of our state who are denied health care or struggling to find a culturally competent physician. This may come as a surprise to advocates across the country, because Oregon is one of the few states that has approved transgender-inclusive Medicaid and issued an insurance bulletin that prohibits discrimination against transgender Oregonians.
We also hear from LGBTQ leaders in rural communities where they continue to experience intense isolation, fear and concern over the cutting of public services in their counties. In some locales, vigilante groups such as the Oath Keepers are first responders to 911 calls. Would you feel safe?
And then there are the three anti-immigrant ballot measures in the works for the 2016 election in Oregon — three. For better or worse, Oregon’s demographics and economics make it an attractive testing ground for policies, good and ugly. LGBTQ immigrants are keenly aware that the opportunity to marry is not enough when attacks on immigrants threaten their livelihood and their ability to live with dignity and care for their families.
Our ringing phones might as well be a clarion call to the entire LGBTQ movement. If LGBTQ equality is a struggle here in progressive Oregon, our work is far from over.
Our past success, however, gives us immense hope and a tested playbook. If we share our stories openly and honestly, and remind others of our shared values, Oregonians will respond. We know we need to trust our volunteers, trust our donors and trust the voters. We can build meaningful programs that other states can replicate.
So we are harnessing the political power we’ve built during the past 19 years to bring justice to all queer and transgender people in Oregon, with a focus on lifting up communities of color which have been pushed to the margins of our movement for far too long.
Working alongside our long-time partners from the immigrant rights movement, we are embarking on a long-term journey to move our base supporters to take the know-how and compassion from our successful marriage campaigns to bring dignity and respect to all LGBTQ immigrants and their families.
Our work also is centered on transgender Oregonians, who have unconscionable suicide and poverty rates. Our policy team is methodically working with administrative bodies to close loopholes that allow insurance companies to deny lifesaving care. We are working arm in arm with Oregon’s largest medical providers to reduce and eliminate barriers within our Medicaid system. And if by 2017, denials continue, we will bring our voices to our state capitol to pass a transgender health care bill that will end discrimination once and for all.
And we must increase employment opportunities for transgender Oregonians. To this end, we are relaunching our Fair Workplace Project, which was pivotal during our early years in creating safe and affirming workplaces for lesbian and gay employees. In partnership with business leaders, we will build a program that we hope will be a template for developing supportive workplaces for transgender and gender-nonconforming employees as well.
We will change the face of leadership in our state to reflect our communities. Oregon is fortunate to have the nation’s first out House speaker, Tina Kotek, first out bisexual governor in Kate Brown, and an out legislator, Rob Nosse — all longtime friends of Basic Rights Oregon. However, our legislature is almost exclusively white, and there are no longer any out transgender elected officials in the state. Our racial and transgender justice programs will train future LGBTQ leaders for high-level appointed and elected positions across the state so they can bring their unique experiences to decision-making roles in every community.
Our long-term work includes deepening our statewide work to reduce the isolation in small and rural towns and launching a youth justice initiative to tackle the homelessness and rejection LGBTQ youth often face.
Our community is embracing our new direction. Our recent fall gala had a huge turnout filled with first-time supporters. We are welcoming new donors at every level who are moved by our leadership on racial and trans justice. And a trendy Portland-based creative agency, Roundhouse, gave us thousands of dollars in pro bono work to update our brand identity, all post-marriage.
We are imagining our Oregon a decade from now: An Oregon where transgender people no longer face steep barriers to employment and health care. An Oregon where people of color have the same opportunities as their white peers. An Oregon where LGBTQ youth are safe and supported, and LGBTQ Oregonians outside Portland can live openly, free from the sting of discrimination.
We are certain that this future Oregon is possible, thanks to our past successes. Stay with us on this journey, and a decade from now we will look back and again marvel at how far we've come.