By Shaley Howard for PQ Monthly
Over the years the LGBTQ community has experienced all kinds of institutionalized and public discrimination and violence. With this oppression often comes the inclination from within our community to bond together for protection and safety; and understandable to be leery of outsiders. It’s challenging when you are the one being oppressed to see that many people are not the ones partaking in LGBTQ discrimination but are openly defying it; working, supporting, speaking out and politicking for a society where everyone is equal. It’s important for us to recognize these allies who understand the concept from their hearts and minds that ‘no one is free when others are oppressed.’ Daria Eliuk is one of these straight allies.
Daria was born in rural Iowa but spent most of her early years growing up in Casper, Wyoming attending the same high school as Matthew Shepard, but several years earlier. She was raised in a liberal household by her ‘hippie artist’ parents. She moved to Portland in 1989 to attend Reed College, fell in love with the city, and stayed.
Many people I’m sure recognize her from the hilarious, irreverent, and queer-positive “Daria, Mitch and Ted” radio show on 105.1 ‘The Buzz,’ where she keeps everyone laughing for hours on end. Over the last 20 years in radio, she’s been given such titles as “Portland’s Favorite Radio Personality” to “Most F**kable Female”. She’s also performed in a series of plays for Don Horn’s Triangle Productions and for the Spoken Word around town.
The list of organizations, events, and causes she’s volunteered for over the years is never-ending. Some include Basic Rights Oregon(BRO), the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), PQ Monthly, Our House, Girls Inc, Breast Friends, the Oregon Zoo, Children’s Cancer Association and Dove Lewis just to name a few. As soon as LGBTQ marriage was legalized, she got ordained and so far has married at least five same-sex couples. Social equality is what motivates her most so generally, if an LGBTQ friend or acquaintance asks her to emcee or judge an event, she’ll do it if able.
I had the opportunity recently to ask Daria about her background and how she became such an active and vocal ally for the LGBTQ community.
PQ Monthly: You mentioned that your parents were liberal ‘hippie artists.’ What was your experience growing up in Wyoming in the 1980’s and with LGBTQ?
Daria: My Mom didn’t hold with the notion that gay people were something you had to be a certain age to ‘find out’ about. We always knew that some women loved men, some men loved men, and some women loved women. That notion never seemed anything but ordinary. But the fact was that I grew up in a highly Republican state in the 80’s, it was very, very uncommon for people to be ‘out’.
I was involved in sports, drama, creative writing, and speech and debate, and knew gay people, but it was almost never discussed. When a friend did come out to you, it was major. It was an unusual and severe gift and responsibility and loving, trusting gesture. It was being entrusted with something that you did NOT fuck around with because you could actually potentially endanger the person. It made you feel incredibly tender and protective of that person. And that, in turn, made you go hypersensitive to utterances or instances of ugliness or slurs or homophobia around you. Because you DID NOT WANT your friend to have to deal with that, ever, at ALL. It was a ‘say what you want about me, but hurt my friend, and I will destroy you’ philosophy.
PQ: Was there anything or anyone in particular that influenced you early on?
Daria: MTV and Madonna. Madonna gets joked about, but I don’t think it can be overlooked or overstated how dramatically Madonna personally changed the conversation around America and the world. If you were a girl of a certain age, Madonna was IT. She was the kind of woman we all wanted to be like, fearless and confident and gorgeous and talented and powerful and having all the fun. And from the very beginning, through word or performance or implication, Madonna’s message about the LGBTQ community was not just ‘Gay people are people too’ but ‘Gay people are AWESOME. THEY ARE AWESOME.’ Be fearless. Be gorgeous. Be powerful. Love your Gay Community.
PQ: How did moving to Portland change your views and opinions?
Daria: When I came to Reed College I was exposed to the radical splendor of groups like Act Up and Queer Nation. The notion of ‘Love yourself and love your gay community’ was exaggerated and illuminated in a whole different way. I met real life drag queens, a group I’d idolized since John Waters movies and watching La Cage aux Folle in French class. Same-sex couples were walking around in the open holding hands!! It blew my mind!!!
I had this really intense compulsion to let all these people know ‘IT IS GREAT THAT YOU ARE GAY! I FOR ONE LOVE IT SO MUCH!!’ I imagine it’s a sort of ‘I have black friends!’ Announcement to a black person. You’re trying to say ‘I know some people are prejudiced against you! But I am not!!!’ It comes across as self-congratulatory and self-serving. But you know what? I think it almost never is, really. It’s just people trying to say, and unable to say:
“I fully acknowledge the community you’re part of has been historically treated inexcusably poorly. And I condemn that. As a member of the community that has hurt yours, I am so sorry. I do not align myself with that. I align myself with you.”
PQ: Do you remember any particular stories that were pivotal in understanding discrimination of the LGBTQ community?
Daria: Freshman year, my dorm mate across the hall was a wonderful man named Kevin Coulson. Among the decorations on my dorm door was a black and white photo of gorgeous Greg Louganis. I had written across the bottom, ‘What a waste.’ Meaning, ‘That I will never be with him.’ So stupid. Kevin took me aside one day early on and explained how, as a gay man, that was hurtful for him to see and why. It BLEW MY MIND. He was so absolutely right, and I was so utterly wrong. It was such an incredible thing for him to do. It revolutionized the way I thought about seriously everything. I needed to educate myself and be mindful of how my words impacted people.
PQ: What is it like working in radio and with your co-hosts Mitch Elliot and Ted Douglass?
Daria: I work with incredible, queer and queer-friendly, feminist, loving, hilarious people like Mitch and Ted. With speech and debate, writing and drama, and eventually radio, it’s all been a journey of words and voice with me. The best thing I can do is speak up when I think something is right or wrong or funny or meaningful. And to speak out when I can vocalize for a friend or a group I love and believe in. I’m unbelievably lucky to have that ability available as a job.
As someone who’s been out since he was 15 years old and who’s known and worked with Daria for over a decade, co-host Mitch Elliot wanted to share his thoughts on her as a friend and ally:
“From the very first moment I met Daria, it was crystal clear that she is a fierce fighter for the rights of the LGBTQ community. I had never been out on the air previously in my career in Atlanta nor Seattle, but Daria was confident that Portland listeners would embrace me and that coming out on the air would be the right decision….it definitely was! Daria hosts countless events for the LGBTQ community. In fact, I’ve never seen her say no when asked to help with an event or fundraiser for the community. I love that anyone in the LGBTQ community can call the radio station, and they are always treated with much love and respect.”
PQ: One final question, any thoughts on the upcoming Presidential race?
Daria: I support Hillary Clinton. She’s bold and brave, and her opponent is the Antichrist!