Some Oregon LGBTQ Related Firsts and Records

By George T. Nicola
Last updated August 21, 2017

There is a tendency for some people to see LGBTQ social justice efforts only on a national level or with a few big cities and populous states. But all politics start on the local level, then sometimes trickle up to the national level. I am documenting in this article some items in Oregon that were firsts or were records that could or did have an eventual effect nationally. Some of these events preceded the birth of the Oregon LGBTQ movement in 1970, but affected our movement in some way. I am also trying to demonstrate that social change comes about not just from the work of a few extraordinary people, but also from the heroic efforts of countless “ordinary” people.

(Special note: I am not an attorney. Nothing in this article should be construed to be legal advice. If you need legal advice, please consult an attorney:  

  1. Oregon was a pioneer in direct democracy. The package that included the initiative, referendum, and recall was once called the Oregon System. ( However, these instruments were eventually used in attempts to deny equality to LGBTQ people. (

  2. In 1917-1918, Alan Hart had “the first documented transgender male transition in the United States.” ( This included a hysterectomy and probably top surgery as well. (From a Facebook Messenger conversation I had with Jackie Mae Stone, President of Northwest Gender Alliance)

  3. In 1922 at the prompting of the state’s Ku Klux Klan, Oregon voters passed an initiative “that compelled children between the ages of eight and sixteen to attend public schools.” The main target was the Catholic Church, which along with some other religious groups tried to invalidate the new law by suing the state in federal court.  The case, Pierce v. Society of Sisters, made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court where opponents of the law won by a unanimous decision. (

    “This decision marked the start of the Supreme Court's recognition that due process protected individual liberties; specifically, the Court recognized consciously that the Fourteenth Amendment applies to entities other than individuals, and recognized the scope of liberties or rights which it protected included personal civil liberties. Over the course of the next half century, that list would include the right to marry, to have children, to marital privacy, to have an abortion, and others.” ( This came to be called “the liberty interest” and is one of the pillars of American human rights.

    In 2014, the citation of this decision opened the oral arguments in Geiger v. Kitzhaber, the lead case that brought marriage equality to Oregon: “The Supreme Court first began to focus on the liberty interest in a case out of Oregon, in fact, in 1925. In Pierce v. Society of Sisters, the Supreme Court addressed a challenge to an Oregon initiative that banned parochial and Catholic schools. In striking down the law, the Supreme Court held that there was a liberty interest at stake when the government effectively attempts to standardize its citizens.” (, page 12)

  4. The earliest major transgender medical advocate in the U.S. was Dr. Ira Pauly, a psychiatrist at what is today called Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU). “Pauly is credited for undertaking the first global review of the published outcome data on transsexualism in 1965” ( See also the GLAPN initiated interview of Dr. Pauly done by OHSU at

  5. In early 1972 at its pre-primary platform convention in Klamath Falls, the Democratic Party of Oregon adopted, as part of its platform and without dissenting votes, a plank that called for state legislation that would ban sexual orientation discrimination in many important categories including employment and housing. (From my personal experience. I wrote the plank, lobbied for it, and stayed for the final vote.) This was very likely the first state major party platform in the nation that adopted a sexual orientation civil rights plank.
  6. In early 1973, Oregon House Bill 2930 would have banned sexual orientation discrimination in employment and housing. It failed House passage by just two votes short of a majority. The floor vote was 29 to 28 in favor, but it needed 31 which is a majority of the House's 60 members. A national activist recently told me that HB 2930 was the first such bill in the country. There is no way of knowing for sure, but that is very likely. (From my personal research and

  7. In April 1973, HB 2930 received a strong statement of support from the Oregon
    District Branch of the American Psychiatric Association (APA). It read in part “there is no proper medical basis to accord homosexuals less than full and equal protection. No evidence exists that proves that homosexuals function less well in occupations than heterosexuals.” Thus, “A policy of judging job applicants on their individual merit would be most consistent with the furthering of each person’s mental health.” The statement concluded: “We therefore would support legislation that would ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in basic areas of human rights such as employment, housing, public accommodation, and education. Specifically, we endorse HB 2930 now pending before the Oregon Legislature.”

    At the time this statement was written, the national APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-1) maintained that homosexuality was a “sociopathic personality disturbance." In December of 1973, the national APA removed homosexuality from the DSM, while at the same time advocating sexual orientation civil rights. (

  8. In 1971, Salem area teacher Peggy Burton was terminated from her job for being lesbian. She sued in the U.S. District Court in Portland. In 1973, the Court ruled that Peggy’s firing was “wrongful”, ordered the school district to pay her $10,000, but it refused to reinstate her to her old position. (From an email I received from her attorney, Charles Hinkle) Peggy was the first LGBTQ public school teacher in the U.S. to file a federal civil rights suit, and the first one to win. (

  9. In 1975-1976, Oregon lesbian activist Susie Shepherd spearheaded the writing of a booklet entitled A Legislative Guide to Gay Rights which was aimed at educating policy makers on the gay issue. The booklet was 76 pages and won rave reviews in the national gay press. It was sold in LGBTQ bookstores across the US and from England to Australia. (

  10. In the late 1970s, Oregon’s Town Council Foundation was one of eight gay non-profits that were given IRS tax free status the same day. Previous to that, IRS had refused to grant non-profit status to any gay social service organization.  The foundation eventually became a gay counselling center called Phoenix Rising. ( and from my phone conversations with Jerry Weller)

  11. According to its web site, Portland based Northwest Gender Alliance (NWGA), founded in 1980, “is one the oldest continuously operating transgender organizations in the United States.” ( Research seems to indicate that NWGA is actually the oldest continuously operating transgender organization in the nation but there is no way of knowing for sure.  (From a Facebook Messenger conversation I had with NWGA President Jackie Mae Stone)

  12. In 1981, attorney Cindy Cumfer established her own practice as an “out” lesbian. She won several lesbian custody cases and handled the first same-gender parent adoption in the United States in 1985. It served as a prototype for adoptions around the U.S. that followed it. (

  13. Audria M. Edwards was the second president of PFLAG Portland and the first African American president of any PFLAG chapter in the nation. In 1987 after her death, her gay son and her transgender daughter founded a scholarship in her honor. The Audria M. Edwards Scholarship benefits LGBTQ students living in Oregon or Southwest Washington. After the passing of its founders, the fund was willed to lesbian activists Maria Council and Kimberlee Van Patten who managed it to this day through their nonprofit Peacock Productions, Inc. ( and

  14. In the 1998 Tanner v. OHSU ruling, the Oregon Court of Appeals became the first court in the nation to decide that government is constitutionally required to recognize domestic partnerships. The Court of Appeals also said that sexual orientation discrimination in both public and private employment was prohibited by the existing statute that barred discrimination on the basis of sex. This was a national first as well. But according to pioneering attorney Charles Hinkle, for judicial technical reasons, the employment discrimination issue remained murky. For details on this, see

  15. Oregon has had 35 anti-gay ballot measures, almost certainly more than any other state in the nation. Voters approved 30 of them, which amounts to 86%. All were eventually overturned by Oregon legislation, by state judicial action, or by federal judicial action.   (

  16. Oregon had the first openly LGBTQ state or Federal supreme court justice in the nation. Rives Kistler, a gay man, was appointed in 2003, and the following year was elected to retain that position. Rives may also have been the first openly LGBTQ public official in the nation elected by a statewide vote. (From my personal research,, and

  17. Oregon had the first openly lesbian Supreme Court Justice. In 2006, Virginia Linder ran in a field of three candidates and was elected.  (From my personal research and

  18. The Oregon Equality Act passed in 2007 and took effect the following year. “Nearly a decade later [2016], the Oregon Equality Act remains a model for other states in providing comprehensive LGBTQ protections. The Act forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression in employment, public accommodations, housing and financial transactions, jury service, state institutions, foster care and public school education.” (

  19. Stu Rasmussen was elected mayor of Silverton, Oregon in 2008, becoming the first openly transgender person voted to public office in the nation. (From a Facebook Messenger conversation I had with Northwest Gender Alliance President Jackie Mae Stone and from

  20. Portland was the first of the nation’s 40 largest cities to elect an openly LGBTQ mayor. Sam Adams, a gay man, was elected in 2008. (From my personal research, from Sam Adams himself, and from

  21. Oregon was the first state in which an openly lesbian woman headed a legislative chamber. Representative Tina Kotek became Oregon House Speaker in 2013. (
  22. Oregon was the first state to elect an openly LGBTQ governor. Kate Brown, who had long openly identified as bisexual, was Oregon Secretary of State when Governor John Kitzhaber resigned in 2015. As stipulated in the Oregon constitution, Kate became governor. In the following year’s general election, Kate was elected to retain that position. (
  23. In 2013, Oregon transgender activist Laura Calvo became the second transgender member of the Democratic National Committee (DNC, the governing body of the Democratic Party) after New Jersey's Babs Siperstein. But Siperstein was appointed by then-national Chairman Tim Kaine. Laura was the first to actually be elected by local party members to the DNC. (
  24. In 2004, Oregon voters banned same-gender marriage by state constitutional amendment. In response, the state’s major LGBTQ rights organization Basic Rights Oregon went about educating the public in hopes of overturning Measure 36 through another ballot measure.

    BRO found that talk of benefits did not bring straight people around to its side. What worked was emphasizing love and commitment. That strategy started in Oregon, and was expanded to other states where it had huge success at the ballot box starting in 2012.Here is a link to a lengthy article that explains quite a bit about the process:

  25. African American mother Antoinette Edwards founded PFLAG Portland Black Chapter in 2009 partly to support her gay son Khalil Edwards. The organization was the first PFLAG group in the country created by and for the Black community. It was recently relaunched as Sankofa Collective Northwest but its goal remains the same -- to promote the health and well-being of specifically LGBTQ people, their families and friends “through support, education, organizing and advocacy.” ( and

  26. The four U.S. Supreme Court decisions in favor of LGBTQ equality to date started with legal logic that originated in Oregon. “The reasoning applied in the Oregon [amicus] brief [in Romer v. Evans] was used in the majority opinion issued by Justice Anthony Kennedy, which declared Colorado’s law to violate the U.S. Constitution. Kennedy later extended the reasoning from the Romer decision to subsequent cases and similarly invalidated laws banning homosexual conduct, the Defense of Marriage Act, and prohibitions against same-gender marriage.” (; from my personal correspondence with Virginia Linder and Rives Kistler; and;;

  27. In 2016, Guinness World Records contained the following: “The oldest drag queen performer is Walter "Darcelle XV" Cole (USA, b. 16 November 1930), who remains active at the age of 85 years, 273 days as of 15 August 2016. Cole is the owner and operator of Darcelle XV Showplace, which hosts the West Coast's longest running drag show.” (

  28. In 2016, Oregon became the first state to hire a coordinator for LGBTQ veterans. Nathaniel Boehme, a gay veteran, provides outreach and assistance to Oregon's LGBTQ veterans, their spouses and dependents. The existence of the position "speaks volumes as to Oregon's commitment to veterans," he told a meeting of Oregon legislators. The position was created by Senate Bill 946, which passed easily in 2015. (

  29. A 2017 NBC news item stated, “Oregon became the first state in U.S. history on Thursday to offer more than two gender options on identity documents, including driver's licenses, making it the first to legally recognize non-binary, intersex and agender people on ID cards.” (

  30. Oregon gay activists Terry Bean and Jerry Weller were two of the cofounders of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), currently the largest LGBTQ rights organization in the United States. Terry Bean was also a cofounder of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund. ( and




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