Difference-maker Terry Bean weighs in on politics — and this election

By Daniel Borgen, PQ Monthly

Terry Bean meets with President Obama just before the president's speech at the convention center this past July

When it comes to our rather long, drawn out battle for LGBTQ rights, there isn’t much Terry Bean hasn’t borne witness to — or been intimately involved with. Best known for co-founding national gay powerhouses like the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, he’s inarguably among our city’s most visible and influential civil rights activists — and he routinely does it all on a national stage.

Bean, a fifth-generation Portlander who owns and operates Bean Investment Real Estate, also helped organize the National Gay Games and, in 1979, the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights — the first march of its kind. That event drew thousands upon thousands of LGBTQ people to our nation’s capital to demand equal rights and protections.

As we’re all keenly aware by now, election day is fast-approaching, and PQ Monthly chatted with Bean about the past, present, and future of LGBTQ politics — and the monumental importance surrounding our choices Nov. 6.

On his proudest moments with HRC: “Obviously the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, as well as the passage of the Hate Crimes Act, would not have been possible without over 30 years of work educating politicians, lobbying and raising money to support our friends and defeat our enemies, and strategizing that path to legislative victory. Those tireless efforts behind the scenes have too often gone unnoticed and un-thanked — and I think that’s a shame.

“The HRC’s Corporate Equality Index has also been a remarkable success; it changed the job market and employment environment for LGBT people. This isn’t as effective as passing ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act), but it has gone a long way towards helping businesses understand and address the needs of their LGBT employees — and to treat them fairly in the hiring process. People forget how different things were eight or nine years ago — when the Federal Marriage Amendment came so close to passage. I saw firsthand how critical the HRC was in blocking that effort — and how they used every political chip they had on Capitol Hill to defeat that horrible law.”

Terry Bean
On his most memorable political moment: “It was election night, 1990, when my best friend Barbara Roberts was elected Governor of Oregon. It was thrilling to watch her become the strongest governor in the country for LGBT rights. While governor, she was also on the HRC’s Board of Directors — something unheard of at the time.

“Another standout moment was the election of Barack Obama — because I knew from the beginning what an important advocate he would be for our community. Maybe it’s because I knew him personally from the start of his campaign, but nothing he’s done on behalf of our community has surprised me, and it’s sometimes been frustrating to hear naysayers among us criticize him for not doing everything right away.”

On what he’d implore each and every reader to consider: “Elections have serious consequences. People say they don’t care about politics, but I know they care about their friends being fired from their jobs for being gay, I know they care about respect for our relationships, and I know they care about LGBT suicide. Who is elected makes a huge difference for LGBT families and our whole community. I think it’s high time we demand our family and friends and the people closest to us consider our equality when they cast their vote. It is unacceptable for people who say they love us to support those who consistently block our path to justice and the dignity we deserve as Americans. They must be told that continuing to do so is an act of betrayal and will harm our relationships.”

When Bean daydreams, in five years he imagines: “I’d like to see a Supreme Court with a solid majority of progressives. Over the next few years, many LGBT cases will be heard at the highest level and it’s critical that President Obama is reelected so he can nominate judges who will treat our community’s concerns fairly and with an open mind.

“The new health care law has a large number of provisions in it that help the LGBT community — and a progressive majority on the Supreme Court is also important to protect equal access to health care for LGBT Americans and their families. Everything we’ve worked so hard for, for decades, could be put in jeopardy if we have a President Romney instead of a President Obama.”

Look for more from Terry Bean on our blog.