“Come Out Wherever You Are”: Renée LaChance

Photo of Renée LaChance by Eric Sellers.
Photo of Renée LaChance by Eric Sellers.

By Matt Pizzuti, PQ Monthly

Renée LaChance, the Brilliant List’s Legacy Award winner, co-founded the Portland LGBTQ newspaper Just Out in 1983, a paper she helped expand and eventually sold in 1998. A community leader with a grassroots mentality, Renee has been a champion and steward of numerous LGBTQ community and social groups in Portland.

PQ Monthly: How did you get started in LGBT media?
Renée LaChance: It started with the Northwest Fountain. I was involved in the Women’s Place bookstore, and thought maybe they should advertise. I tracked down the gay paper, talked to the publisher and said, “Well how come you don’t have any women’s news? It’s all men.” He said, “Well, write it!” So I did. I had “The Women’s Page,” writing about what was happening in the lesbian community.
Six months later another guy comes along and says, “Hey I’m gonna start a gay paper, why don’t you come work with me?” And I said great! That was the Cascade Voice, Neil Hutchins was the publisher. I started as the assistant manager; within a month or two I was the editor.
Some controversies happened between the summer of 1982 and summer of 1983. Back then everything was “gay,” there was no “gay and lesbian.” So women were fighting and our male allies were fighting to call things lesbian and gay. The publisher of the Cascade Voice was not coming along; I was also learning about issues of people of color and developing this new political consciousnesses and wanted to talk about that, and he just wasn’t having it. I had an ally, my assistant editor Jay Brown who was also my paper’s photographer. Jay and I decided to start our own paper and we started Just Out.

PQ: Tell me about how Just Out was different.
RL: Our mission was that everyone should come out; the more visible we were, the faster we’d get our rights. The majority of the community was closeted back then. Since we had left the paper that advertised all the (gay) bars — the traditional advertising revenue for an LGBT newspaper — they boycotted us. We started to approach non-gay people, or gay and lesbian professionals, or businesses who were gay or weren’t gay, who didn’t advertise with the other paper. We did surveys with our readers, and people said, “Yeah, if someone is advertising a Chevrolet car I’m gonna buy that before I buy a Ford because it’s in my paper.” That kind of loyalty just bloomed. We were the first ones who did that. Every time I talked to other gay papers, they said, “What? You sell to non-gay businesses? How do you do that?”

PQ: Who inspires you? Who are your role models?
RL: Well Harvey Milk is one my early mentors because he advocated being out, and he was one of the first to talk about intersections. He would look at his board of San Francisco and see all the different communities and what they had in common. Kathleen Saadat, Rupert Kinnard. Gloria Steinem, for her feminism, and right now Melanie Davis is kinda being my hero.

PQ: Yeah? How so?
RL: Because she really walks her talk, and really visualizes her community as a whole — every color, every letter — she really lives that. And as people are saying “papers are dying, papers are dying,” she’s proving they’re not, by starting another one and even expanding.

PQ: What are your hopes for the future?
RL: For the community, I would like to heal the rift between lesbians of a certain age who aren’t as supportive of trans women as they could be — I need to think of a better way to say that — I’ll say I’d like to heal the rift between cis lesbians and trans lesbians. For myself, I hope to be able to create something in this community to support our aging queer population — the boomers who got us all to where we are now, I’m the youngest, right? So they’re all older than me, and some of them are in their 70s and 80s and we need to be creating systems and spaces for them to still have viability, and to create residences for them too. Our queer heroes shouldn’t be warehoused. So we need like community housing, we need to develop space for ourselves to continue being our authentic selves.
I have visions of mini houses in a community space where you can live in your little independent house, but still have common space like a common kitchen and dining room, and maybe somebody comes in and helps with assisted living types of things if needed. And hopefully nursing homes will be better eventually but I don’t see that happening. But I see our people getting warehoused in places where they can’t be out, they can’t be with their loved ones, and their friends are too old to visit them, and that’s wrong.

PQ: Is there anything you’re really proud of?
RL: I’m proud of all the firsts that Just Out did. The first paper to depend on non-gay-bar advertising, we were the first gay newspaper credentialed for a National Democratic Convention in 1988, we were the first ones to buy a big gay billboard by the Memorial Coliseum  that said “come out come out wherever you are!” It must have been 1991.
I’m having a lot of fun right now with a group called the Dapper Boy’s Club; it’s a group of trans men and butch women and people just fucking with the gender binary. We dress up and go out and mostly look like peacocks, take our pictures, drink whisky. That’s been very fun — we’ve been doing that for two years — we call it the dapper takeover and take over a bar. We take over a gay bar and it’s been very fun to rattle some people saying “what’s going on over there? Who are those people?” But hey, it doesn’t matter what we are, our gender doesn’t matter. And I’m super proud of being a fifth generation Oregonian.