June: LGBT History Month

 

 

This June, recognizing the joys and sorrows that the gay and lesbian movement has witnessed and the work that remains to be done, we observe Gay and Lesbian Pride Month and celebrate the progress we have made in creating a society more inclusive and accepting of gays and lesbians. I hope that in this new millennium we will continue to break down the walls of fear and prejudice and work to build a bridge to understanding and tolerance, until gays and lesbians are afforded the same rights and responsibilities as all Americans.

--President Bill Clinton, June 2, 2000


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Gay and Lesbian Rights Movement
by Peter Boag

Before New York’s Stonewall Riots in 1969, the history of gay rights in Oregon, as in the United States generally, was one of curtailment. For example, in the nineteenth century when Oregon formed as a territory and then a state, lawmakers adopted a statute criminalizing sodomy, whether consensual or not. In response to a major homosexual scandal that gripped Portlandat the end of 1912, the state legislature strengthened the sodomy law in 1913, extending its maximum sentence in the penitentiary from five to fifteen years and expanding the definition of what constituted an act of sodomy. In addition, from early in the twentieth century into the 1970s, local law enforcement officials persistently used nuisance ordinances to harass and prosecute people who patronized gay bars.

Beginning in the 1950s, gays in a few places in the United States began to push back against such laws and prejudice and to demand better treatment. This period, extending to the end of the 1960s, is generally known as the "Homophile" era, during which a few social and rights groups, such as the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis, formed first in Los Angeles and San Francisco, with chapters then spreading to a few other major cities. Seattle gays, for example, created their first homophile group in 1967. Through this period, however, no similar effort occurred in any Oregon city, though in the winter of 1964-1965, gay bar owners in Portland hired attorneys to help them successfully wage a defense against city officials who wished to shut down their businesses. 


Gay & Lesbian Archives of the Pacific Northwest LGBTQ History
by Heather Burmeister

The Gay & Lesbian Archives of the Pacific Northwest was founded in October 1994 by a small group of community historians in Portland. At the time, it was the only gay and lesbian organization of its kind in the Pacific Northwest, with the stated purpose of “advancing the visibility of queer cultural history within the Pacific Northwest.” From the beginning, GLAPN partnered with the Oregon Historical Societyto house and add to a collection of LBGTQ materials. It was an unusual arrangement, particularly at a time when most gay and lesbian historical organizations struggled to gain respect. GLAPN has been an official affiliate of the Oregon Historical Society since 2013; the collection has grown to over 150 cubic feet.

For gays and lesbians in Oregon, the 1990s were marked by struggles for equal rights in housing and employment and against the Oregon Citizens Alliance’s anti-gay ballot measures. In the summer of 1994, Allan Bérubé, the author of Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War II, gave a seminar at Portland State University where he emphasized the importance of organizing efforts to preserve gay and lesbian history. The small class included Tom Cook, Pat Young, Jeanine Wittcke, and Bonnie Tinker, who held their first meeting to form an archive. They named their group the Gay & Lesbian Archives of the Pacific Northwest.

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Basic Rights Oregon
by Heather Burmeister

Established in 1996, Basic Rights Oregon was the first statewide political organization in Oregon to work on the behalf of LGBTQ rights (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer). Its mission is to ensure that LGBTQ Oregonians “experience equality by building a broad and inclusive politically powerful movement, shifting public opinion, and achieving policy victories." Part of a national movement seeking justice and marriage equality, Basic Rights Oregon is the largest nonprofit gay rights organization in the state.

Based in Portland, BRO was formed in response to a growing number of conservative political activists and their attacks on the civil rights of Oregon's LGBTQ residents. In 1988, for example, the Oregon Citizen's Alliance, a conservative political action group, had campaigned for and successfully passed Ballot Measure 8, repealing Governor Neil Goldschmidt's 1987 Executive Order 8720, which prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation in state employment.


Portland Gay Men's Chorus
by Terrill Grubbs

The Portland Gay Men's Chorus (PGMC) was founded in April 1980 to perform a concert as part of that year's local Gay Pride Festival. Twenty men responded to an ad published by Gary Coleman in the local community paper, The Fountain. That June, the group organized and elected officers, with the entire chorus serving as the board of directors. PGMC, which was formally incorporated on June 30, 1981, is recognized as the fourth oldest LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) “affinity” chorus in the United States. Its mission is “to expand, redefine, and perfect the choral art through eclectic performances that honor and uplift the gay community and affirm the worth of all people."

PGMC quickly became an institution in the Portland area, seeking to revive and invigorate men's choral art while bridging the barriers separating sexual minority people from the population at large. Throughout its history, PGMC has presented concerts with wide appeal, including repertoire ranging from classical to contemporary to camp, supplemented by dance, staging, and multi-media. Performances also have featured professional soloists and musicians.

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First Unitarian Church
by Mary Bothwell

In 1866, the Ladies Sewing Circle, a small group of Portland women from the New England states, led by Mary Frazier, raised $2,000 for a church that reflected their belief in liberal Christianity. They bought land at Southwest 7th and Yamhill and built a structure in 1867. A young minister from St. Louis, Thomas Lamb Eliot (1845-1936), arrived that December to start the first Unitarian Church, known as Church of Our Father, later called First Unitarian Church. 

The church called Dr. Marilyn Sewell in 1992. The beginning of her ministry coincided with the appearance of an anti-gay ballot measure in Oregon. What had been a church of approximately 700 members suddenly almost doubled in size, with people looking for a liberal religious home for themselves and their children. The church hired an assistant minister, Reverend Thomas Disrud, and a minister for social justice, Kate Lore, as well as additional staff for religious education and the music program.


Johnnie Ray
by James Fox

Ray had more than twenty hits from 1951 to 1958. Several were smashes, including "Please, Mr. Sun," "Here Am I-Broken Hearted," and "Walkin' My Baby Back Home." He made well over a million dollars a year throughout much of the 1950s, sold out shows around the world, and appeared in a number of movies, including There's No Business Like Show Business with Ethel Merman and Marilyn Monroe. But his fame was coupled with substance abuse and an unconventional lifestyle—he was openly bi-sexual in an era when it was against the law to be gay, and he was arrested several times on morals charges. His fame also brought him to the attention of New York high society, particularly Dorothy Kilgallen, who was nationally known for her syndicated newspaper column, The Voice of Broadway, and her role as panelist on the television game show "What's My Line." Kilgallen carried on a very public affair with Johnnie Ray for several years.

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KBOO Community Radio
by Gerald Sussman

In 2008, KBOO Community Radio (90.7 FM) celebrated forty years on the air since its humble beginnings as a barely audible 10-watt repeater signal in a tiny basement studio in downtown Portland. The station was born of the radical ‘60s culture that had migrated to the Rose City and whose founders wanted to challenge the region's commercial broadcasting establishment. Its mission was to provide the station's listener-owners with countercultural musical, news, and public affairs offerings not found on the commercial airwaves. Since those early days, KBOO has evolved into a locally produced platform for multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, feminist, gay, lesbian and transgender, politically left, and non-mainstream news, public affairs, and music and arts.


Walter Cole (Darcelle)
by Valerie Brown

When Walter Cole was discharged from the military in the late 1950s, he had little idea that his alter ego, the female impersonator Darcelle, would emerge and that he would become the proprietor of the longest-running drag cabaret on the West Coast.

Born in 1930, Cole spent his childhood in the scrappy northwest Portlandneighborhood of Linnton. After his military service, he created a conventional life in far southeast Portland as a married man with two children. He worked at a Fred Meyer store and was, as he told an interviewer in 2005, a guy with “a crew cut and horn-rimmed glasses.”

But the military had put $5,000 in his pocket at discharge, and it was starting to smolder. On an impulse, he bought a coffeehouse near Portland State University called Caffé Espresso and plunged into a bohemian world that was just starting to change from a beatnik to a hippie scene. With live music at Caffé Espresso, Cole nurtured the transition of the local music scene from folk troubadours to acid rock bands.

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Alan Hart
by Morgen Young

Alan L. Hart was an Oregon physician, researcher, and writer and one of the first female-to-male transgender persons to undergo a hysterectomy in the United States and live the reminder of his life as a man.

Alberta Lucille Hart was born on October 4, 1890, in Hall’s Summit, Kansas, the only child of Albert and Edna Hart. After Albert Hart died in 1892 following a typhoid fever epidemic, Edna and Alberta moved to Oregon. Edna remarried in 1895 and eventually settled in Albany.

Hart was considered a masculine child and identified himself more as a boy than as a girl. In 1908, he enrolled in Albany College (now Lewis & Clark College), where he gravitated toward the sciences and joined the debate team. He transferred to Stanford University in 1910 and helped establish the first women’s debate club there. Exposed to the culture of San Francisco, he adopted tailored clothing and masculine habits.


Marie Equi
by Michael Helquist

Dr. Marie Equi was a fiercely independent Oregon physician who was engaged in the political turmoil and social change of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She was a fearless advocate for woman's suffrage, labor rights, and free speech, and her raucous protests against imperialism and war gave her a reputation in Portland as one of the most outspoken agitators in town. For all her boldness, Equi was a dedicated caregiver who held her profession so dearly that even her close companions called her "Doc." 

With a courage and conviction unusual for her time, Equi openly enjoyed associations with other women that would readily be called "lesbian relationships" today. For fifteen years she lived with a niece of the Olympia Brewing Company founder, and she adopted an infant girl whom the two women raised.

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