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Rediscovering Family: Antoinette, Keith, and Khalil Edwards

By George T. Nicola
Date: January 10, 2018

Antoinette & Keith EdwardsAntoinette and Keith Edwards are parents of five children. One of their kids is Khalil Edwards. In a video made by Basic Rights Oregon (BRO) in 2011, the three of them talk about Khalil’s coming out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H2MLycrdZNY. Khalil starts the video by saying “When I hear family, I think of love.” He then mentions his happy childhood. His parents confirm the same, then they proceed to talk about how they accepted him when he decided to come out to them about his sexual orientation.

Founded in 1996, BRO soon became Oregon’s major organization advocating for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) equality. Realizing that many who experience homophobia and transphobia also face racism, BRO made racial equity a priority too.  Khalil was eventually hired as a part time staffer joining Basic Rights Oregon’s Racial Justice Program team.

In 2009, PFLAG Portland Oregon, which had originated decades before as a group of straight and cisgender ally friends and parents to support LGBTQ people, reached out to Antoinette to help with Black inclusion. So, Antoinette founded PFLAG Portland Black Chapter. Originally part of PFLAG Portland, PFLAG Portland Black Chapter was the first PFLAG organization in the nation founded by and for the Black community. Khalil became Chapter Coordinator soon after the chapter was founded. He displayed an amazing amount of charisma in this capacity. Like most PFLAGs, PFLAG Portland Black Chapter involved a lot of LGBTQ people as well as allies. Khalil recruited and included numerous outstanding members. The organization has recently changed its name to Sankofa Collective Northwest, but it continues its supportive role and working towards a world where Black LGBTQ folks have freedom to determine and influence their lives and continuously generate true generational liberation.

On August 24, 2013, BRO and PFLAG Portland joined a march and rally in downtown Portland commemorating Martin Luther King’s 1963 March on Washington. Khalil gave an inspiring speech at the rally. Recalling the contributions of gay Black activist Bayard Rustin, Khalil stated “Because he lived out and proud, inspiring others to live fully, and work to change the world, I can stand here today: Black, gay, and proud.” (http://glapn.org/6046KhalilEdwardsSpeech.html)

Khalil EdwardsIn November 2015, Khalil was interviewed for the Ebony magazine article “When Your Child Comes Out: Embracing an LGBT Loved One.” “Yes, you may have just learned this new thing about your child, but this is still the same person you have raised, nurtured and loved for his or her entire life. We have to remember that unity in our families is a strong tradition; we hold each other close, not push others away,” shared Khalil in the article reminding us all of some of the values African American families hold dear.

In 2014, Antoinette and Keith were given GLAPN’s Queer Heroes NW Award: http://glapn.org/6477A&KEdwards.html. I was impressed by how many people they and their organization assisted. For instance, they helped get asylum for a young gay Ugandan who was in danger in his very homophobic native country. Antoinette and Keith even moved him into their home.

Two people I met through Sankofa were a couple named O’Nesha and LaKeesha Cochran-Dumas. They were recovering drug addicts but are now helping others. I nominated them for GLAPN’s Queer Heroes NW Award in 2017 and they won. (http://glapn.org/6570CochranDumas.html) GLAPNite Margaret-Ann Jones, who I first met through Sankofa, was also impressed with them and she knew Antoinette was as well. So, Margaret-Ann invited Antoinette to present the award to O’Nesha and LaKeesha. Margaret-Ann also arranged to have the event videotaped by her longtime lesbian activist friend Beverly Standish.

The celebration drew about 150 people, and in her address, Antoinette was her always eloquent self. Beverly gave us a snippet of that 3-minute address: https://vimeo.com/230390752. So, a few months later, I nominated Antoinette for Portland Monthly magazine’s Light a Fire Award in the Lifetime Achievement category. I included the video in my nomination narrative, and she won. In November, Portland Monthly invited us to the award presentation gala. They gave a video presentation about Antoinette based on their article “How Antoinette Edwards Takes Care of Portland’s At-Risk Youth”. When the video ended, the audience jumped to their feet and applauded thunderously until they were too exhausted to continue.

A few weeks later, Governor Kate Brown appointed my friend Fay Stetz-Waters to the Linn County Circuit Court. Fay is one of the first openly LGBTQ African Americans to hold an Oregon elective office. I asked Antoinette and Keith if they wanted to attend Fay’s investiture. The event was held 70 miles away on a congested highway at rush hour. Despite their busy schedules, Antoinette and Keith understood the importance of the occasion. They drove the three of us down there at rush hour. I could tell it meant a lot to Fay. 

There is so much I can say about these people. Thank you, Antoinette, Keith, and Khalil for creating an inspiring model of family love, acceptance, and inclusion!

 

(This article is part of my series “Rediscovering Family”. I plan to publish these story by story over a period of time.)

 

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