Hellcat to activist
Dede Does Portland, By Dede Desperate, PQ Monthly
Never would I have considered myself a community activist or a leader until I was asked to write a column about volunteerism. After some serious reflection on what led up to this moment, I have come to embrace my newfound path in my community.
As a matter of fact, if you had asked me to describe myself, it would have been as more of a rebel, outcast, foul-mouthed, bitchy gypsy. I’ve done so much wrong in my life that I felt trapped in negativity. Looking for a way out, I found myself caring for my surroundings and what other people thought of me.
The realization that you make up part of your community and your actions contribute to the wholeness of that community can be a slap in the face to someone who never really considered others people’s feelings before. However, there is only so much much drinking, drugging, and destructive behavior one can do before that inner desire for happiness and fulfillment take over. When it did, I felt a desire to do better and be better.
This feeling was was so foreign to me, as my life was spent in survival mode and I was always ready to fight or defend myself at any moment. Once I awoke and took a detailed account of all my past shenanigans, I realized it was damage control time, not only to my reputation but to my soul.
I started doing all the things that I always wanted but never had the drive or courage to accomplish — simple goals like going to school, getting my own apartment, and bringing a dog back into my life. The biggest accomplishment I added to my life was choosing to get involved in community service.
I came to understand that if I wanted to change myself and the world I had grown so desperately to hate, I would have to join it, create in it, and believe in it like never before. I had been pulled into volunteering on and off in my life by family and friends but it was never something I chose to do on my own — until a few years ago, 2009 to be precise, when I stumbled upon Q Center.
The LGBTQA community center had been sitting at the end of my street for over a year before I decided to go in and see what all the fuss was about. Q Center staff and volunteers accepted me for me, unlike any other place in my past. I was given my position based on my skill and not my skirt.
It has been the longest relationship in my life to date. I have never been asked to compromise or change myself, unlike every other place I had worked or volunteered. In my past there was always this underlying understanding between my superiors and me that I needed to change my appearance in order to succeed.
I have been able to flourish inside the walls of Q Center and because of this I have been able to go from hellcat to activist, and become a leader within Portland’s LGBTQA community, which is struggling for equality.
It started as a just a few events here and there, then led to doing a weekly reception gig, and I now serve as one of three volunteer coordinators at Q Center. Jillian Fouch, Lissy Richards (shout out to my partners), and I lead more than 200 extremely diverse and amazing volunteers. We have been able to really turn around the volunteer program and create a new system from scratch.
I know that Lissy, Jill, and I volunteer because we want a better world, a world that can only be better if we are doing better. The reward that comes with volunteerism is never monetary, but so much more than that, because we are able to see the direct effects of change in people’s lives.
We provide services at Q Center that are not available in most cities across America. We are able to give counselling, support groups, community space, and a true safe space to all people. These are such powerful tools, and they are primarily provided by volunteers. Every day allies and LGBTQ community members are giving their time and energy to building and fostering a better Portland.
I want to hear from you and where you volunteer in Portland and why, so we can spread the word and feed the masses. This city will become what we make.
Dede is a Southern-grown transplant working on a BS in women’s studies and a minor in Spanish all the while volunteering with Q Center as a volunteer coordinator. She-he is also a indie horror flick princess with a background in go-go dancing and a fascination for the strange and unusual. Contact her-him at firstname.lastname@example.org.