Queer Heroes NW 2012

Gladys and Bill McCoy

Gladys McCoyGladys McCoy was raised in the segregated South at a time when she still had to overcome huge racial and gender barriers. In 1970, she won election to the Portland School Board, the first African American to win an elected office in Oregon!

At the 1972 National Democratic Convention, she was approached by gay lobbyist George Nicola to work for a sexual orientation nondiscrimination plank in the national platform. She agreed, and thus became the first Oregonian with any political power to openly support gay equality.

When berated for her outspoken stance, Gladys responded that she could not seek equal rights for herself as an African American if she did not support equality for gays.

That same year, her husband Bill was the first African American to be elected to the Oregon Legislature. In 1973, he became a House co-sponsor of the state’s first bill that would ban sexual orientation discrimination. As ombudswoman for Governor Robert Straub later in the 1970s, Gladys was instrumental in creating a state task force on gay civil rights.

Bill McCoyAmong other “firsts,” Bill was elected to the Oregon Senate and Gladys was elected as Chair of the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners.

In 1996, after their deaths, the Oregon Legislature designated The McCoys as the “first African-American political family of Oregon,” calling them “modern-day pioneers who blazed the trail for members of the State’s African-American community.” And they did all this while raising seven children.

It is significant that two people who were leaders in over- coming racial obstacles were also pioneering supporters of gay rights. They are role models for how to stand shoulder- to-shoulder with other communities working for inclusion and equality. Gladys and Bill McCoy’s lives remind us how interconnected we all are.


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