By Khalil Edwards, Basic Rights Oregon
Sunday, October 11 was National Coming Out Day. This annual event is a time for us to raise awareness about what it means to come out—even with the significant policy gains in recent years, lived equality remains elusive for many LGBTQ Oregonians.
While many LGBTQ people of color are finding more acceptance from family and community; living at the intersections of multiple marginalized identities creates unique barriers to access. As LGBTQ people of color, we face additional hurdles that keep us from being able to come out and be safe and authentic in our everyday lives.
As Beryl “BJ” Jones, an older Black lesbian puts it, “I’m African American. I’m gay, and I live in a highly Caucasian community, and I must be able to operate, or at least function in all of those.” Often finding support, resources, and acceptance in LGBTQ organizations or organizations in communities of color can be extremely challenging to navigate.
That’s why Basic Rights Oregon works with straight leaders of color to “come out” in support for LGBTQ families. We want to dispel the myth that communities of color are not supportive of LGBTQ people and their families, and have straight leaders of color announce their support for LGBTQ families.
Former Senator Avel Gordly is one of these straight leaders of color and she says, “We come from a family of community builders, and what I want for our family is that they be able to thrive, that we are a part of building what Martin Luther King Jr. called ‘beloved community’, a community that embraces all of its people, and the potential of all of its people.”
And this year, straight leaders of color are stepping it up and coming out in support by sharing their stories of acceptance, lifting up their commitment to LGBTQ Justice, writing op-eds and speaking at the coming out monologues. Straight leaders of color like Ramon Ramirez of PCUN, Nkenge Harmon of the Urban League of Portland, June Schumann of APANO, Captain Kevin Modica of the Portland Police Department, Nicole Maher of the Northwest Health Foundation, and Dante James from the City of Portland Office of Equity and Human Rights are some of the many leaders who voiced their support for the National Coming Out Day project.
“LGBTQ folks are an integral part of our community and I defend their rights to live a life free from discrimination, hate and indifference,” said Ramon Ramirez. “An attack on one sector of our community is an attack on all. Si Se Puede!”
It’s important that we are all more active in our support of LGBTQ families. People make assumptions about what love and acceptance look like, and part of being supportive is to continually express love, affection, and support, so that LGBTQ people know that they are safe and welcome. My oldest sister Kijan Winchester is an incredibly supportive straight ally and one of my biggest champions, and she says, “Everybody wants the same thing, and that’s the quality of life to be accepted, to just be able to be free, and love. Just support that. If nothing else, support that. For all the families out there, erasing homophobia starts with you. To accept me, you have to accept him.”