Kari Greene on hate crimes, self-defense, and self-love

By Nick Mattos, PQ Monthly


Kari Greene (right) teaches self-defense with an emphasis on power, dignity, and grace.


Kari Greene wants you to know that you are someone worth protecting. A researcher and evaluator for the Oregon Public Health Division specializing in LGBTQ health, Greene is also an instructor at One With Heart Tulen Center, where she teaches a wide variety of individuals and communities self-defense and self-empowerment. Here, Greene shares her thoughts on the ways that Portland’s “liberal bubble” can perpetuate hate crimes, appropriate responses to victims and perpetrators of violence, and the critical need for queer people to insist upon our worth and value as individuals and as a community.

PQ: What sort of factors do you see contributing to hate crimes against the LGBTQ community in Portland?

KG: We live with this illusion in Portland that we are an incredibly diverse, inclusive, and liberal community. And though I love my hometown and know many amazing people here, I also think we have a responsibility to be completely honest with ourselves about how issues like racism, homophobia, classism, and sexism affect Portland as a whole and our LGBTQ community. For example, the Coalition of Communities of Color recently issued a report that offered a stark look at how toxic Multnomah County is for people of color. For many liberal, well-intended people in Portland, that report was a wake-up call on the inequities present in our community. And I think our collective insistence that “everything’s fine!” perpetuates hate crimes and inequities across communities.

PQ: What factors are similar between aggression perpetrated against the LGBTQ community and aggression perpetrated against other communities?

KG: Any act intended to make someone feel “less than” or undeserving of love and respect is an act of aggression in my mind. Homophobia and transphobia, as well as other anti-LGBTQ sentiments, are codified in our current society and systematically perpetuated in our larger culture… I believe these structural inequalities and societal acceptance of anti-LGBTQ policies perpetuate aggression against our communities in unique ways.

I think all of us who have experienced structural, societal, or interpersonal violence can relate to one another on a fundamental level. Though different words and different tactics might be used across marginalized groups, we all know how it feels to have someone treat us less [well] than we deserve and I truly believe that violence that crosses these intersections of race, ethnicity, gender, class, and sexual orientation are rooted in the same place of power and domination.

PQ: How can members of the LGBTQ community — and the community at large — best respond to bias-related conflict individually?

KG: First and foremost: take a self-defense class! No, that’s not just a shameless plug for our free One With Heart self defense classes, but it’s something that I think all of us as global citizens need in our portfolio, so to speak…. Positive and affirming self-defense classes that raise awareness and focus on skill-building will not only impact the individual, but will decrease violence and deescalate conflicts on a community level.

PQ: Thinking on a philosophical level, what effects do hate crimes have upon those against whom they are perpetrated and the community at large?

KG: These acts of aggression have very real and tangible impacts on us as individuals and as a society. As LGBTQ people, we are often the subject of ridicule, derision, and hatred in the media, in politics, and in society at large. Seeing ourselves in the news as objects of ridicule and hatred, then hearing policy-makers debate whether we should be considered equal citizens can take its toll… As individuals and as communities, we must learn to reject those anti-LGBTQ messages and remind ourselves and others of our worth and our value. In our self-defense trainings we remind people of the power of our voice — and we can use our voice to remind ourselves that we are strong, we are capable, we are smart, and we are worth defending.

PQ: Can conflicts be prevented? What can individuals do to prevent or stop them? What can the community at large do?

KG: Breathe. And find your voice. Honestly, those are incredibly powerful tools we already possess. When we breathe and learn to use our voice to calm ourselves and those around us, we can de-escalate conflicts and we can prevent a violent act from ever happening. And if the aggressor chooses to continue down that path of violence, we can use our voice and our body to defend ourselves until that person is no longer a threat, until help comes, or until we can leave the situation. … [We do not] have to be a one-person show for social justice. We have to set aside our ego and challenge ourselves to look closely at our own beliefs and actions and why we do the things we do. Sometimes our ego is the first thing to respond to a potential conflict. And though I am a huge believer in speaking up and taking advantage of those “teaching opportunities” that may arise, there are times when the safest (and hardest!) thing to do is to walk away.

PQ: Is there anything else you would want Portland’s LGBTQ community to know or think about when it comes to hate crimes or conflict?

KG: Conflict, hate crimes, and aggression often stem from a place of fear — a very low place. We want to give people the chance to do the right thing, to take the right course of action, and to choose to be their highest self. If that person chooses to remain in that low, fearful place and chooses to perpetrate violence, we have the right to defend ourselves. We are worth it — each and every one of us. And our actions come with a responsibility to act from a high place beyond anger and ego. That is not always easy, but it is necessary to heal ourselves, our community, and our world.