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Early Attempts at Oregon Gay Civil Rights
By George T. Nicola
Last revised 10/22/2010 4:30 PM
2. Launching the Portland gay movement
3. Attempts at civil rights protection in the city of Portland
4. Civil rights potential on the federal level
5. Oregon 1972 preprimary Democratic platform support
6. The 1972 election
7. Gretchen Kafoury, patient tutor
8. The 1973 political scene
9. Structuring House Bill 2930
10. Bolstering the bill from the outside
11. The bill hearing
12. Letter writing
13. Getting the bill out of committee
14. Final vote on the House floor
15. Consequences of the 1973 bill
16. Additional local action
17. Legal advances in the courts
18. Other activity that would have long term benefits
19. Subsequent Oregon statewide legislative attempts in the mid-1970s
This article is mostly my personal recollection of the events surrounding the first attempt at passing an Oregon statewide law banning sexual orientation discrimination. The paper is not intended as a fully researched historical document. However, in some cases I have supplemented my memories with information from interviews or from reliable paper or Internet documents.
If a reader finds any statement he or she believes to be incorrect, I will reexamine it. I will edit this document accordingly if I can verify any inaccuracy.
When I use the word “gay”, I refer to anyone with a homosexual orientation, whether male or female. By the term “gay civil rights”, I mean legislation that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation. I am not referring to or advocating any “special rights” for homosexuals. The word “straight” has had many definitions in the past 40 years. I use it in this document only to mean heterosexual. I use the phrase “gay movement” because that was the common terminology in the early 1970s. Today, we often use the terms LGBT or LGBTQ to describe what is largely the same movement.
It may appear that our structure was unsophisticated and did not involve many people. I joined and worked with existing organizations, but I never created any myself. That type of thing was never my strong point. While there were some things I could have done better, I did what I could based on my skills and limited experience, without pay or funding. I am glad that people who got involved later were able to generate more participation, structure, and financing.
Some of the Oregonian newspaper hyperlinks in this article point to a web site maintained by the Multnomah County Library. You can access the targets remotely if you have a library account. If you do not have an account, you can access the targets by using one of the Internet terminals at a Multnomah County Library branch.
Portland’s gay movement was launched in early 1970 by gay men and women who wanted to fight homophobia and to assure a more fulfilling and dignified future for themselves and others like them. It began with the founding of the Portland Gay Liberation Front by John Wilkinson, Dave Davenport, and Holly Hart. Here is some detail about the Portland gay movement’s founding: http://www.justout.com/news.aspx?id=244.
Initially, much of the movement consisted of dialogue. At that time, any open discussion about homosexuality in a positive and honest manner was considered daring. In fact, it was shocking to some that any Oregonian would publicly state that he or she was gay. So we published extensive gay related articles in newspapers such as the Willamette Bridge and The Fountain. Additionally, men and women identifying themselves as gay addressed gatherings sponsored by schools, churches, and other community groups.
During this same period, the state of Oregon passed a comprehensive criminal code revision. This included the abolition of a law which had effectively criminalized most non-commercial homosexual activity in private among consenting adults. The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon had a hand in this important reform. The Oregon gay movement at that time was too young, small, and inexperienced to take part in this endeavor.
The new law was passed by the 1971 legislative session, and signed by Republican Oregon Governor Tom McCall. It took effect on January 1, 1972. (http://glapn.org/607sodomylaw.html). Previous to that, the only states which had taken such action were Illinois and Connecticut. Even decriminalization of homosexuality was considered quite a courageous act in 1971.
By 1972, inspired by examples of gay organizations in other parts of the country, we in the Portland gay movement started to examine how we could gain the type of legislative non-discrimination protection that racial minorities and women had recently received. We were most concerned about equal rights in employment and housing.
While the Portland Gay Liberation Front was a valuable first step in addressing gay issues, some activists who wanted a stronger and more permanent structure soon established a gay organization they named the Second Foundation of Oregon. It was this group that began the initial efforts at banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in Portland and on the Oregon statewide level. Some of the gay people who worked on this at the very start were Lanny Swerdlow, the late Dave Fredrickson, Neil Hutchins, Steve Fulmer, George Oberg, Dwayne Downing, and me. Beginning in the early days, the ACLU of Oregon and its Executive Director, the late Stevie Remington, were helpful as well.
In late 1971 or early 1972, we started the process by asking the city of Portland if it would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. I think we began with Portland’s Metropolitan Human Relations Commission. However, they informed us that Portland, unlike many other cities, did not have a civil rights ordinance of any type. The city would be unlikely to create a special ordinance just to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. The Human Relations Commission did suggest that we try to get the City Council to pass a resolution banning discrimination in city employment only. Such a resolution did pass in late 1974. But it was a long time in the making and had limited scope even when it passed. Clearly, we had to look to higher levels of government for civil rights protection.
As mentioned above, in 1972, 47 states still had laws which effectively criminalized homosexuality. Various methods were also used to keep homosexuals from serving in the military, from holding other federal jobs, or from getting the security clearance necessary for some types of federally related employment. This indicated that the national climate was not conducive to federal civil rights protection for us. Additionally, there was no effective national gay organization that represented us in our quest for equality.
Still, there were attempts in other parts of the country to call for a gay equality plank in the national Democratic Party platform of 1972. I thought I would try to do something with Oregon’s delegation to the Democratic national convention. I asked around and I was referred to a delegate named Gladys McCoy.
I had never met Gladys, but I knew that in 1970, she had run for the Portland School Board. She won, and in the process became the first African-American to win elected office in Oregon.
I met with Gladys, and she quickly became committed to the cause of gay equality. Shortly after I met her, she told me that someone had berated her for supporting gay equality. She had responded that she could not seek equal rights for herself as an African American if she did not support equality for gays.
Although we were not able to get a gay civil rights plank in the national Democratic platform that year, the process we went through to get support in Oregon gave us one of our first powerful allies locally. Bill McCoy, Gladys’ husband, was elected to the Oregon House of Representatives 1973 session. He became a sponsor of our first gay civil rights bill. Gladys herself eventually went on to higher office.
In 1996, the Oregon State Legislature designated Gladys and Bill McCoy the “first African-American political family of Oregon.” The resolution called them “the modern-day pioneers who blazed the trail for members of the State’s African-American community” through their efforts in the struggle for equal protection and opportunity. So their support early in our movement was both very helpful and symbolic. More details on the McCoys can be found here: http://www.sunschools.org/Public/EntryPoint?ct=febb9a53c8e91110Vgn
Because civil rights protection did not look promising on the city or federal level, we felt our only option was to seek inclusion in the statewide non-discrimination law.
In early 1972, a gay activist, the late Roger Troen, called me with a proposal. He had just read that the Democratic Party of Oregon would soon hold its preprimary convention in Klamath Falls. If I would compose a gay civil rights plank, he would buy me a ticket to attend the convention and lobby for that plank’s inclusion in the platform.
I wrote a brief plank and flew to Klamath Falls. I think the plank mostly called for a legal ban on discrimination in employment and housing based on sexual orientation and marital status. I was assigned to a human rights committee. There I made my proposal. The head of the committee, John Stuart of Eugene, then pointed out that he had already suggested a gay civil rights statement. It was subtler and briefer than mine, probably because no one expected any openly gay participation in the convention. The committee, including Stuart himself, was very supportive and voted to use my more explicit version. It went to the floor of the convention and was accepted without any opposition.
It was often said that the preprimary convention was relatively meaningless, and that the important thing was the postprimary convention. I think the latter included a gay civil rights plank which was briefer. However, the preprimary platform did gain attention. Additionally, it might have been the first time in American history that a state’s major party platform had included a clear statement supporting gay equality.
Platforms are symbolic, but we had to work with something more concrete – the actual election.
Through the Second Foundation, we sent out questionnaires to those running in the 1972 primary asking them how they would vote on certain issues. The issues were the same as those in the platform, mostly banning employment and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and marital status. The questionnaires to city and county candidates probably asked about support for resolutions banning sexual orientation discrimination for employees of those respective public entities.
Through some miscommunication, no questionnaires were sent to candidates for the Legislature. I was not aware of that, and I was disappointed that we received no responses. One sunny spring day, I was sitting on my porch step in Northwest Portland when a legislative candidate came walking down the street. Although I had never met her, I recognized her as Vera Katz. She was obviously very tired from canvassing for her first run at the Oregon Legislature. When I asked about the questionnaire, she replied that she had never received one. I gave her a blank copy. She perused it briefly, and then filled it out positively without hesitation.
Vera Katz was certainly tired from canvassing that spring day. But in doing some historic research in 2007, I found that just a few decades before our porch step meeting, she had endured a much more rigorous trek. She was living with her parents in France when the Nazis seized the country. As Jews, they had to flee for their lives. So the child Vera walked with her parents and sister over the Pyrenees Mountains to safety in Spain. Eventually they made it to the United States. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vera_Katz?oldid=0).
After the porch step encounter, we sent out questionnaires to other legislative candidates. I did not see Vera again until Gretchen Kafoury reintroduced us in the state Capitol the following year. But it was interesting that the first Oregon legislative candidate to pledge herself to gay equality was someone who had fled on foot as a child to escape the worst consequences of hate and bigotry.
Overall in the 1972 primary, we received positive responses from a surprising number of candidates. From these responses, we created a percentage rating system and put them in The Fountain, which was a newspaper published by the Second Foundation. We also distributed flyers with those ratings in places frequented by gays. We took similar action in the 1972 general election. Many supportive candidates won. However, we gay activists had met very few of them in person.
Getting commitments from elected officials was encouraging. Beyond that, none of us had any idea how to proceed.
Then one day, a young man approached me after a Second Foundation meeting. He explained that he was a Reed College student and that he was boarding with a family named Kafoury. Their daughter-in-law, Gretchen Kafoury, had been hired by a coalition of women’s rights organizations to lobby the 1973 Oregon Legislature on feminist issues. Gretchen said she would help me in our gay civil rights attempts. I met with Gretchen, and we laid out our plans. She would become a sort of godmother to the Oregon gay civil rights movement.
More information on Gretchen can be found at this link: http://www.sunschools.org/Public/EntryPoint?ct=9ab55f2d5f862110Vgn
From my observation, the 1973 legislative session was particularly conducive for reform. There seemed to be little bipartisan strife. Both houses were controlled by Democrats, many of whom were of a liberal bent. Those included young first termers such as liberal activist Vera Katz; Gretchen’s husband at that time, Steve Kafoury; and Mary Wendy Roberts who was a personal friend of mine. The Legislature also included a number of moderate Republicans. The Governor was the legendary Republican Tom McCall, who signed into law some of Oregon’s most pioneering reform measures.
As the feminist lobbyist, Gretchen helped get the Legislature to ratify the Equal Rights amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Through Gretchen’s efforts and under the sponsorship of Vera, House Bill 2116 was passed to prohibit discrimination based on sex (gender) or marital in areas other than employment. (http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/ohq/111.1/watson.html). Katz, who had been denied service in two Portland restaurants, called this “one of the most far-reaching bills in the area of women’s rights”. (“Together, women legislators weigh environmental issues”, Oregonian. 4-11-1973 or http://0-infoweb.newsbank.com.catalog.multcolib.org/iw-search/we/HistArchive/?p_product=EANX&p_theme=ahnp&p_nbid=G5FO4CKDMTI4
Adding marital status to civil rights law was important to gays, since being unmarried was often used as an excuse to deny people equal rights. Previous to 1973, federal and state law had already prohibited sex (gender) discrimination in employment. However, it appears that Oregon did not ban discrimination in employment based on marital status until 1977.
Previous to the introduction of the bill, I consulted people of interest to get their input. One helpful person in Portland was Holly Hart. As I mentioned, Holly had been a cofounder of Portland’s first gay political organization. She was also good at communicating and she had a keen mind for detail.
Through the ACLU, I knew Peggy Burton, who was fired from her school teaching position when word got out that she was in a relationship with another woman. The ACLU, through attorney Charlie Hinkle, took her case to court. Peggy was able to gain support for our civil rights bill in the Salem area. Given the fact she had a legal case pending against the school district, I don’t think she testified at our bill hearing but she was probably present. More information on Charlie Hinkle can be found at http://www.stoel.com/showbio.aspx?Show=240.
I know that we had support from Eugene gay activists and someone from Klamath Falls, but I do not recall the names. We had a planning session in the building of a Salem clinic called “Cry of Love”. In the spirit of the era, we called our statewide umbrella group the Oregon Gay Political Caucus. It sounded powerful as long as no one knew how small and unstructured it was.
Gretchen, as promised, took me to Salem and stationed me in Vera Katz’s office. Gretchen, Vera, and Steve Kafoury, asked me to write some proposed wording to add sexual orientation to the existing state civil rights law. I did that, covering only employment and housing because I thought those were the issues of greatest concern. I passed it by Legislative Counsel, received their revision, and got ready to seek sponsors. The proposed legislation was given the title House Bill 2930.
Steve, Vera, and Gretchen gave me advice on how to solicit sponsors. Barbara Sanders, mother of an autistic child, was in the Capitol to lobby for special education. I met her in Vera’s office one day. Although Barbara is straight and had no association with the gay issue, she was exceptionally kind to me and provided me with some sponsor advice.
My request for sponsors must have been pretty humorous to many legislators. Here was a totally inexperienced “lobbyist” walking into their offices and asking them to support equal rights for Oregonians who less than two years before were considered criminals.
In fact, when I visited the office of one Senator and asked him for his support, he howled with laughter. This bill, he quipped “will separate the men from the boys!” Then to my surprise, he pulled out his pen and signed on to the bill as a sponsor.
Amazingly, we got 17 sponsors. Below is the list based an original bill document. All of these were Democrats except for Republican Lloyd Kinsey. Six of the 17 sponsors were women, all of them Democrats.
- Primary sponsors in the House: Vera Katz, Stephen Kafoury
- Primary sponsors in the Senate: Keith Burns, Edward N. Fadeley
- Secondary sponsors in the House: Margaret U. Deleri, Ralph Groener, Lloyd C. Kinsey, William McCoy, Mary Wendy Roberts, Keith D. Skelton, Pat Whiting, Howard Willits, Nancie Fadeley.
- Secondary sponsors in the Senate: Keith A. Burbridge, Ted Hallock, Betty Roberts, Bill Stevenson.
I think there were only two Representatives that were members of racial minority groups. Both were in the House. Bill McCoy was the only African American. Pat Whiting was the only Asian American. Both were bill sponsors.
In terms of other ethnicities, Vera was Jewish. Steve Kafoury, like me, was Arab-American, since we were both of Lebanese descent paternally.
It made sense to show legislators that support from our bill came from established institutions outside the gay community. But few of those would stand up for us in this situation.
I believe we did get a statement from the ACLU of Oregon. Although a number of churches had assisted us in the past, I was not able to get their support for the bill.
Someone introduced me to a sympathetic psychiatrist named Ira Pauly. I asked Dr. Pauly if he could help us get backing for the bill from the Oregon District Branch of the American Psychiatric Association. He agreed to that and was successful in getting a supportive statement on April 17. The statement explained that “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.”
This is quite a statement. Here is the state’s official psychiatric group saying that gay civil rights would further people’s mental health. Eight months later, the national board of the American Psychiatric Association issued a statement in support of gay civil rights (http://www.soulforce.org/article/642).
I don’t think I wrote the Oregon wording myself, so it must have been Dr. Pauly’s verbiage. Here is some information on Dr. Pauly: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ira_Pauly.
The Oregon department that enforced the state’s civil rights laws was supervised by Norman Nilsen, the elected Commissioner of Labor and Industries. Both Nilsen and the director of his civil rights division were supportive of us from the time we first contacted them.
It would be helpful, also, to get support from the mainstream press. I talked to quite a few newspapers. I think it was Salem’s Capital Journal that gave us the first such support. It was their lead editorial one day and it was headlined something like “Give Gays Equal Rights”. That paper has since merged with another newspaper called the Oregon Statesman, taking the new name, the Statesman Journal.
The other editorial came from the Oregon Journal. That has since merged with the Oregonian.
I did meet with an Oregonian editor. He was not homophobic, but neither was he very encouraging. He did comment that employers would probably see our proposed law as yet another intrusion on the ability of business to operate freely. After our meeting, I never heard back from him or his newspaper.
About that time, some of us gay activists were asked to address a group at a Portland area Christian institution, the Menucha Retreat & Conference Center. After our presentation, I had a chat with Rita Knapp, who with her minister husband Charles, was Co-Director of Menucha. She mentioned that her daughter Kristan was a lesbian. I invited Rita to attend our upcoming bill hearing.
The bill was assigned to the House Committee on Federal and State Affairs, chaired by Les AuCoin. The committee scheduled a hearing on a weekday. We got the word out in the gay community, so we had quite a large turnout.
AuCoin did not attend, so the vice chair, Earl Blumenhauer of Portland, presided. He informed us that we had a strict limit of one hour, so each testimony would have to be brief and applause would not be permitted.
I gave an introductory testimony and presented documents such as our support from the state Psychiatric Association and a few newspapers. I emphasized the need for “legal redress to support the basic rights to a job and a home.”
Then one after another person came to the table and gave a brief testimony in support of the bill. A woman I had already known cried when relating that she and her partner had been evicted from their apartment for being lesbians. A stunningly glamorous woman who had been referred to me by some lesbian friends stated that she had been fired from her job at a cocktail lounge because she would not date men. State Commissioner of Labor and Industries Norman Nilsen said that the need for this legislation was underscored by gay discrimination complaints received by his office.
I was surprised and delighted that Rita Knapp had decided to attend. I was even more surprised when she walked up to the microphone to testify. Her speech lasted just a few minutes. But her words in support of her lesbian daughter were so moving and sincere that they would become the Gettysburg Address of parents who love their gay children.
“I am the parent of a gay woman”, she told the committee. She had come to know her daughter’s friends as socially conscious, intelligent, educated, warm and happy persons. She continued, “People must recognize that everyone has the right to be free to choose the life style he wishes. We of the establishment must disengage ourselves from myths and vague fears.” (“Homosexual issue argued in the House”, Oregonian, 5-3-1973 or http://0-docs.newsbank.com.catalog.multcolib.org/openurl?ctx_ver=z39.88-2004&rft_id=info:sid/iw.newsbank.com:EANX&rft_val_format=info:ofi/fmt:kev:mtx:ctx&rft_
As she rose to leave the table, the crowd could not resist bursting into a thunderous ovation, despite the fact that we had been told applause would not be permitted.
In all we had about 30 people testify for our bill. Interestingly, no one spoke in opposition to it. I can only assume that at that point, homophobes did not take us seriously. That of course would soon change.
We knew that if we were going to get the legislative votes for our measure, we would have to show support from the voting public. We got a map that showed legislative district boundaries, along with the names and addresses of the corresponding Oregon House members. We set about getting constituents to write to their specific Representative.
In Eugene, John Stuart led a huge effort to win over an important swing vote. In Portland, we found that patrons of a gay, mostly men’s bar called the Family Zoo tended to have an interest in their civil rights. One patron, the late Jerry Evans, and I brought paper and the legislative district map and sat at a table. We helped willing patrons identify their House Representatives, and guided each of them through the process of writing a letter. We suggested that they donate 5 cents for a stamp. Then we put each letter in an addressed envelope, stamped it, and mailed it.
This method, however primitive, must have been effective. One Representative told Steve Kafoury that he was impressed at how he got letters of support from his own constituents.
We did try to do voter registration in the bars, but the Multnomah County election official would not permit it.
In one interesting event, I received a request to speak to a group at Lewis and Clark College. I invited lesbian activist Jean DeMaster and she agreed to participate. Jean and I tried to address the basic gay issues. But two men who shared the stage with us were somewhat argumentative with Jean and me.
There were only a handful of people in the audience. One of them kept asking friendly questions which Jean and I answered positively and thoroughly. .
A few days later I was lobbying in the Legislature trying to get the vote of Portland Republican Mary Rieke. She had been noncommittal, but as we talked that day, she mentioned that her son had attended the session at Lewis and Clark, and was quite impressed with our presentation. So that is a good example of how when you do your best under adverse circumstances, things sometimes work out better than you expect. Rieke ended up being one of the few Republicans to vote for our bill.
The House committee sent our bill to the House floor on May 24 with a “do pass” recommendation. Then, in a move to bury the bill, the House voted to refer it back to committee. I do not recall either of those events. Since that was 37 years ago, I might well have forgotten. Additionally, in those ancient times before answering machines and cell phones, it was easy to miss phone calls.
On July 2, the committee held an evening session to reconsider the bill. I drove down to Salem and I was the only person in the audience. Few committee members who supported us attended. The only supporter I knew there was Democratic Representative Ed Lindquist of Milwaukie. Before the meeting started, I told Ed how concerned I was and that I really needed his help. He told me he would do what he could.
As I expected, a vote taken to refer the bill to the House floor with a “do pass” recommendation failed by one vote short of a majority. Then a Republican from a rural area turned to Lindquist and asked something like “You really want this bill to go to the floor, don’t you?”
Lindquist responded that he did. So the Republican who had asked that question changed his original vote, giving the committee the majority it needed to send the bill to the full House floor with a recommendation to pass it.
One of the House members who was kindest to me was the bill’s only Republican sponsor, a Portlander named Lloyd Kinsey. So I was pleased when Steve Kafoury suggested that Kinsey as a Republican would be the best person to introduce the bill on the House floor. I approached Kinsey with the proposal and I promised to write the speech for him. He agreed to my request.
I realized that after all that work and with all the people that had stuck their necks out, I better make the speech good. So I put into it all the emotion I had experienced in my life as a gay person. It must have worked, because it got some very positive comments. Fifteen years later, former Republican gubernatorial candidate Norma Paulus praised it in her own speech before the gay Right to Privacy PAC’s annual Lucille Hart dinner in Portland. I wish I had kept a copy of it, or at least be able to write that way all the time.
On July 3, the bill was reintroduced on the House floor. Kinsey gave the speech. After he was done, I was surprised at the number of people who rose to speak in the bill’s favor. One of them was sponsor Nancie Fadeley of Eugene, and another was Vera. But the biggest surprise was Salem Republican Norma Paulus.
I had lobbied Paulus but I had not been able to get her to commit to a vote for us. Now she rose to give strong support on the floor. In 1988, in her Portland speech I mentioned earlier, she stated why she had decided to support us in 1973. A friend of hers had come into her office back then and revealed to her for the first time that he was gay. He told her how important it was to him that she support the bill. This stands in my mind as an excellent example of how coming out to our friends can have such positive political results. Norma’s personal friend could secure a vote that I as a “lobbyist” could not get. In fact, Paulus narrated this story as an example of tactics we should take in defeating the Oregon Citizens Alliance’s first antigay ballot attempt, Measure 8.
A number of Representatives did rise to speak against the bill.
HB 2930 received 29 votes in favor out of the 60 House members. There were 28 against it. Two members were excused and one was absent, but I don’t think any of those three would have voted in favor had they been present. So those who voted in the bill’s favor outnumbered those in opposition. Still, we needed at least 31, which is a majority based on the full 60 member House. Gretchen believes that if both the House and Senate had approved the bill, Republican Governor Tom McCall would have signed it into law.
I mentioned that the House’s only African American and only Asian American were bill cosponsors. They of course voted for the bill’s passage. Of the 9 women in the House, 8 voted for it, including all three Republican women. For some of the votes, we had to work very, very hard, but we did get them. The only woman who voted against it was Portland Democrat Grace Peck. In terms of party breakdown in support of the bill, 23 were Democrats, and 6 were Republicans. Urban Representatives tended to vote for the bill, while those from more rural districts tended to vote against it.
I think HB 2930 was a watershed in the Oregon movement for gay civil rights. With no funding, little sophistication, and no experience in the process, we came very close to getting a non-discrimination bill through one house of the Legislature. The amount of support we received from outside and within the Legislature; the effectiveness of our testimony; the closeness of the vote; and the publicity generated in the mainstream press sent a clear message that the quest for gay civil rights was serious and that a final victory might some day be possible.
Numerous legislators, some of them in their first term, had gone on record as supporting gay equality. Yet many of those who had taken such a risk not only survived politically; they advanced in their political careers.
Vera Katz went on to become Oregon’s Speaker of the House and then three term mayor of Portland. Salem Republican Norma Paulus was later voted to statewide office and in 1986 became her party’s nominee for governor.
Mary Wendy Roberts was eventually elected to statewide office as Commissioner of Labor and Industries. Barbara Sanders, who was both helpful and kind to me, later married Frank Roberts. It was as Barbara Roberts that she went on to statewide office, first as Secretary of State, then as Governor. She has remained so committed to our rights that she was at one point a straight member of the national Human Rights Campaign board. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbara_Roberts). She can be called the “guardian angel of the quest for gay equality”.
Rita Knapp, whose testimony became legendary, went on with her husband Charles to cofound the Portland Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG Portland), a group that has done so much to keep families from becoming estranged from their gay children. (http://www.pflagpdx.org/NewPFLAGsite/Chapter_History.html)
Although there were plenty of liberal holdouts, the quest for gay equality, once considered a fringe issue, was now permanently embedded in our state’s proud progressive tradition. If you were an Oregonian who valued your state’s commitment to reform and human dignity, how could you oppose equality for any minority group?
Perhaps most importantly, gay Oregonians began to think differently about themselves. Those who followed the events in those few months now had hope that they might not have to spend the rest of their lives in loneliness, fear, and hiding. Their dream for equality no longer seemed like an unattainable fantasy. They knew it was something worth struggling for.
I don’t have a clear timeline about when events happened after the close of the 1973 legislative session, but a number of incidents occurred that would have future ramifications.
According to gay activist Terry Bean, three years of efforts by the small Eugene gay community resulted in a 1976 city ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. The following year, voters overturned the ordinance in a referendum.
The fact that even the voters in liberal Eugene would oppose a ban on antigay discrimination was not a good omen. Clearly Oregon homophobes had organized in a way that they had not done for our first state bill. This was a warning of worse to come. But this temporary loss had an impact on Terry Bean, who lived in Eugene at the time. He would later become one of Oregon’s most dedicated and effective gay activists. He went on to help found the national Human Rights Campaign and the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.
In February of 1974, two years of gay lobbying resulted in an openly gay man’s appointment to Portland’s Metropolitan Human Relations Commission. (“Gay libbers get place on board”, Oregonian 2-7-1974 or http://0-infoweb.newsbank.com.catalog.multcolib.org/iw-search/we/HistArchive/?p_product=EANX&p_theme=ahnp&p_nbid=
Long before I left the movement in 1974, we began the process of trying to get the City of Portland to adopt a resolution banning discrimination in municipal employment. However, this did not make much progress until late in 1974. The late Ken Allison, an early Portland gay liberationist, was involved in the city effort. So was Lanny Swerdlow who no longer lives in this area. I believe the resolution was sponsored by Commissioner Connie McCready. Although the City Council positions were non-partisan, McCready was a Republican.
Portland mayor at the time was Neil Goldschmidt. During the 1972 campaign, we sent candidates for Portland municipal office questionnaires that asked about their support of that proposed resolution. Bill DeWitt, who was considered the conservative candidate, immediately responded indicating his support. Goldschmidt did not, even though he was seen as a liberal pioneer. Goldschmidt continued to withhold his support during the rest of his campaign and even after he was elected mayor. However, he ended up voting for the resolution. That vote was used against him during his reelection campaign, but he still won. His declaration of a gay pride day in June of 1977 caused him even more enmity from homophobes.
In searching the Oregonian recently, I was reminded that in March of 1973, I attempted to get the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners to pass a resolution banning discrimination in county employment. It would set “an example for private employers and the Oregon Legislature” to pass the full civil rights bill, I am quoted as saying. My main support came from Commissioner Ben Padrow, who would later spearhead Bud Clark’s campaign for Portland mayor. However, I did not get a very good reception from some of the other commissioners.
One Commissioner argued that such a resolution might create problems with the employment of police officers and juvenile workers. I am quoted as replying that the real problem was that police officers might fear for their jobs if blackmailed. If they had no fear of job discrimination, blackmail could not occur. I also recall trying to convince the Commissioners that gays were not a threat to children. The Board agreed to take another look at the idea a few weeks later. I do not know where it went from there. (“Gay activists ask job rights with county, Oregonian, 3-28-1973 or http://0-infoweb.newsbank.com.catalog.multcolib.org/iw-search/we/HistArchive/?p_product=EANX&p_theme=ahnp&p_
The resolution did finally pass, but over a decade later. It was successfully pushed by Gretchen Kafoury, then county Commissioner. She was joined by Commissioners Earl Blumenhauer and Pauline Anderson.
The City of Portland eventually enacted more comprehensive civil rights protection. In 1990, it passed an ordinance that banned sexual orientation discrimination by all employers doing business in the city, as well as in housing and public accommodations. (“GAY- RIGHTS LAW ENACTED”, Oregonian 10-4-1991 or
In 2000, gender identity was added. (“CITY EXPANDS RIGHTS ORDINANCE TO TRANSGENDERS, Oregonian, 12-14-2000 or http://0-infoweb.newsbank.com.catalog.multcolib.org/iw-search/we/InfoWeb?p_action=doc&p_topdoc=1&p_docnum=1&p_sort=YMD_date:D&p_
multi=ORGB). These were both very helpful since it would not be until much later that a comparable statewide civil rights law was enacted.
In 2000, Multnomah County passed an amendment to its bylaws that prohibited officials from discriminating in hiring for county jobs on the basis of gender identification. (“COUNTY TAKES UP RIGHTS FOR GAYS, TRANSGENDERS”, Oregonian 12-15-2000 or http://0-infoweb.newsbank.com.catalog.multcolib.org/iw-search/we/InfoWeb?p_action=doc&p_topdoc=1&p_docnum=1&p_sort=YMD_date:D&p_
I had mentioned earlier the case of Peggy Burton, the schoolteacher who had been fired when word got out she was a lesbian. Here is the outcome of the case as explained by Peggy’s attorney Charlie Hinkle:
“The federal District Court in Portland ruled that the dismissal was "wrongful" and it awarded her $10,000 in damages, plus a modest amount of attorney fees to the ACLU. However, the court refused to reinstate her to her old position, on the ground that reinstatement "would not work" in the small community of Turner, Oregon. Burton appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld that decision by a 2 to 1 vote.”
The Circuit Court decision was handed down in 1975. Here is the link with the full ruling: http://openjurist.org/512/f2d/850/burton-v-cascade-school-district-union-high-school-no.
Also on the legal front beginning in the 1970s, Portland lesbian attorneys such as Cindy Cumfer conducted pioneering legal work which would have long term benefits to both men and women who maintained same-sex headed families.
Starting in about 1973, Portland gay movement activity began getting more attention from the mainstream media. Quite a number of television and radio stations interviewed gay people about their experiences and lifestyles. The late Ancil Payne, President of King Broadcasting which at that time owned Portland’s KGW, got word of our activities even though he lived in Seattle. He traveled to Portland and asked ACLU’s Stevie Remington to arrange a meeting between him and Portland gay activists. The meeting resulted in a series of five consecutive prime time news television interviews with Portland gays on KGW TV. KGW became a big supporter of ours. Ancil Payne is remembered today by the national Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism. More details can be found here: http://payneawards.uoregon.edu/.
I had been a gay activist without pay. I could not afford to continue that. Additionally, I found that few employers at that time were willing to hire someone who was openly gay, not to mention a gay activist whose name and image were all over the media. So I left the gay movement in mid-1974 to get a full time job. I don’t have direct knowledge of what occurred on the state level in the immediate years after that. However, I can relate some of what I know from others.
Larry Copeland says he himself had been apolitical up to late 1974. That changed when he attended a Portland City Council hearing on the proposed resolution opposing sexual orientation discrimination in city employment. Vera Katz, still in the Legislature, testified at the meeting. Larry recalls that while Vera was at the meeting, she told a group of gays who attended that she planned to reintroduce our gay civil rights bill in the coming legislative session, which would have been 1975. She strongly suggested that the gay community send a representative to lobby for that bill and back up her efforts.
The late Ken Allison became that lobbyist. His sponsoring organization was the recently created Portland Town Council (PTC) which evolved into Portland’s major gay civil rights organization. Larry Copeland became one of its main activists. Susie Shepherd joined at some point as well. Larry recalls raising money by various means. Ken was paid a small salary for his lobbying efforts.
Leo Gaul, who was involved in the PTC, was the gay lobbyist in the 1977 legislative session. He worked out of Gretchen Kafoury's office, since she was elected to the Oregon House in 1976.
In the late 1970’s, Democratic Governor Bob Straub created a state Task Force on Sexual Preference. Portland gay movement cofounder Holly Hart, who had since become an attorney, chaired the group. One of the members was gay activist Susie Shepherd’s mother, Ann Shepherd. Ann and her husband Bill were, with the Knapps, also cofounders PFLAG Portland. Details on the task force can be found here: http://www.integrityusa.org/voice/1979/MarchApril1979.htm.
Further information beyond this would best be provided by someone more active at those times. Obviously the movement gradually became more sophisticated and better financed. But that same success created a homophobic backlash. It took a lot of effort on the part of thousands of Oregonians, both gay and straight, to maintain our struggle.
A non-discrimination bill was introduced in every session of the Oregon legislature from 1973 to 2007. In the spring of 2007, 34 years after we first started, we finally succeeded. Lobbying efforts by Basic Rights Oregon got the state to pass a same-sex domestic partners provision and a ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Speaking at the bills’ signings by Governor Ted Kulongoski, Barbara Roberts said that she had been afraid she would not live to see the day this would finally happen. I couldn’t have said it better myself.