George T. Nicola, GLAPN
The Gay & Lesbian Archives of the Pacific Northwest (GLAPN), the LGBTQ history group, celebrated Black History Month with an exhibit at Portland’s Q Center. The display featured the many contributions of both LGBTQ and allied African Americans to Oregon’s LGBTQ movement and community.
Read some highlights from the exhibit (names in bold are people who were featured in the exhibit):
Black lesbian activist Kathleen Saadat (pictured above) was one of the six people that organized Portland’s first Gay Pride march in 1976. It was a courageous act and only drew a couple hundred people, but it was the start of an annual event which led to the huge LGBTQ Pride parades we have now. In 1991, Kathleen helped craft a Portland ordinance that banned sexual orientation discrimination, the first such law in Oregon that was not overturned by voters. (Gender identity was specified later in the decade.) Kathleen has been an important figure in intersectional advocacy, and has been awarded several lifetime achievement awards.
Bill and Gladys McCoy were some of the Oregon LGBTQ community’s earliest straight cis allies, as well as being the first two African Americans voted to public office in the state. When Gladys first started supporting gay rights in 1972, other prominent Portlanders berated her for her advocacy. She responded that she could not ask for equality for herself as an African American if she did not support equality for gay people. The following year, Bill entered the Oregon House as the first Black Oregon legislator. There he cosponsored Oregon’s first bill attempting to ban sexual orientation discrimination.
Audria M. Edwards, another straight cis ally, was the second president of PFLAG Portland and the first Black PFLAG president anywhere in the nation. She had four LGBTQ kids — a lesbian daughter, a gay son, a bisexual daughter, and a transgender daughter. When Audria passed away, two of her kids, Lady Elaine Peacock and Misty Waters, started the Audria M. Edwards Scholarship Fund. Upon their deaths, they entrusted the scholarship to Maria Council and Kimberlee Van Patten, who run it to this day through Peacock Productions, Inc. The organization is known for its iconic summer Peacock in the Park shows. The scholarships benefit LGBTQ students living in Oregon and Southwest Washington.
In 2007, Kendall Clawson became the Q Center’s first executive director, growing the center to become the important LGBTQ community resource it is today. Three years later, she left to become Governor John Kitzhaber’s Director of Executive Appointments. In that role, she helped the governor make appointments to state’s 312 boards, commissions, task forces, and work groups. As an African American lesbian, Kendall called on her experiences to make these entities much more representative of women, LGBTQ people, and people of color. She has since left state government to become Executive Director of the American Leadership Forum of Oregon.
Also honored were many gay African Americans like Harold Strong, who has long been active in Portland’s Imperial Sovereign Rose Court, and who has been particularly effective in bringing court support to GLAPN and other segments of the community; and bisexual African Americans like Rev. Cecil Prescod, who, starting in 1992, pioneered organized support for LGBTQ equality from religious communities through his organization, People of Faith Against Bigotry.
The exhibit recognized Black LGBTQ organizations over the years, including Brother to Brother, Black Lesbians and Gays United, and Portland Black Pride. In 2009, PFLAG Portland Black Chapter was established; it was the first African American PFLAG chapter in the nation. The founder, Antoinette Edwards, is a charismatic Black straight cis ally who wanted to support her gay son, Khalil Edwards. Khalil was coordinator of the group for many years. In August of 2013, he delivered an eloquent speech in Portland’s Waterfront Park at an event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington that helped lead to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In his speech, Khalil referenced Bayard Rustin, the gay Black 1963 march organizer. “Because he [Rustin] lived out and proud, inspiring others to live fully and work to change the world, I am able to stand here today: Black, gay, and proud.” Last year, PFLAG Portland Black Chapter was relaunched as the Sankofa Collective Northwest, which continues to promote the health and well-being of Black LGBTQ people and their families and friends.
The Black History Month exhibit was highlighted with a February 23 reception and a showing of the movie Loving, a historical drama about the plaintiffs in Loving v. Virginia — the Supreme Court ruling that invalidated state laws prohibiting interracial marriage.
This year’s GLAPN Black History Month program was assembled by several members of GLAPN, including president Robin Will and Margaret-Ann Jones. Margaret-Ann is a major African American activist in the Portland LGBTQ movement. She has also been involved in Women of All Colors (WOAC) and Lesbians of a Certain Age (LOCA).
The original artwork for the exhibit was created by renowned Portland gay African American graphic artist Rupert Kinnard. Much of the exhibit included posters from the annual Queer Heroes NW program that GLAPN launched in 2012, which honors a Queer Hero every day in June as part of Pride.