News Briefs: June/July 2013

Summer of Love

Marriage equality campaign hits the streets with Summer of Love

By Erin Rook, PQ Monthly

Oregon United for Marriage kicked off its Summer of Love campaign for marriage equality June 1 with events across the state.

In Portland, more than 50 volunteers showed up at Sunnyside Church to listen to remarks from Sen. Jeff Merkley and retired Lt. Col. Linda Campbell — who recently won a battle to have her wife buried in a national cemetery — before hitting the streets to identify supporters and future volunteers.

Following a brief training, the volunteers split up into groups and dispersed across the city to invite passersby to pledge their support for marriage equality and sign up to volunteer during Pride weekend.

Volunteers are not yet collecting petition signatures.

“We are waiting for the green light from the Oregon Supreme Court, so we can begin collecting the 116,284 signatures needed to qualify for the November 2014 ballot,” says Amy Ruiz, communications director for Basic Rights Oregon.

One of those who gave up four hours on a sunny Saturday was 33-year-old attorney Josh Stadtler. The California native isn’t gay — in fact, he’s engaged to be married to his girlfriend in September — but he says he’s “very animated” about marriage equality.

“As someone about to get married … to me it’s a no-brainer in 2013 that everyone should have that freedom,” he says.

Stadtler’s step-brother is gay, and though the two have never had a heart-to-heart about the issue, he says his sibling’s coming out in the 1990s was a transformative experience for him and his family. He says he’s been eager to get involved since that “bittersweet day” that California passed Proposition 8 and Barack Obama was elected president.

“I heard about the campaign on NPR and thought I should get my lazy butt off the couch,” Stadtler says. “[My step-brother] can stand and be my best man but he doesn’t have that right [to marry]. That’s messed up.”

Most of the people who passed by Stadtler on SE Hawthorne that day were eager to show their support for marriage equality. One woman, catching only the words “freedom to marry,” waited patiently while Stadlter finished another conversation to find out what was going on.

These conversations will continue throughout the summer, on street corners, at kitchen tables, and across neighbors’ fences.

“The single most important thing people can do to achieve marriage equality in Oregon is to start a conversation about why marriage matters,” Ruiz says. “LGBT people and our straight allies shouldn’t assume that the people in their lives know how you feel about marriage for same-sex couples. It’s not about changing someone’s mind in a single talk, it’s about starting the conversation — sharing your values around love, commitment, and basic fairness.”

To learn more about how to start conversations about marriage equality, check out PQ Monthly’s extended coverage at pqmonthly.com. To volunteer with Oregon United for Marriage, sign up at oregonunitedformarriage.org.

LOCAL

Multnomah County Board Chair Jeff Cogen signed an executive order June 11 calling for all future county buildings to include gender-neutral restrooms. The county will also conduct an inventory of its existing buildings and remove the gender labels from single stall restrooms where possible. Cogen told the Oregonian that he made the decision after transgender county employees expressed that there were no facilities they could safely and comfortably use. He also said that he timed the signing of the order to correspond with LGBTQ Pride month.

Oregon native Brigadier General Tammy S. Smith served as Capital Pride’s parade grand marshal June 8.
Oregon native Brigadier General Tammy S. Smith served as Capital Pride’s parade grand marshal June 8.

Washington, D.C.’s Capital Pride honored Oregon native Brigadier General Tammy S. Smith as its Pride Parade Grand Marshal June 8. Smith, who became the first openly gay or lesbian flag officer to serve in the U.S. military in 2012, is originally from Oakland, Ore., and graduated from the University of Oregon Reserve Officer Training Corps program. She has served in the Army for 26 years, including tours in Afghanistan, Panama, Costa Rica, and the Pentagon, and recently received the 2013 Advocacy Award from Out and Equal Workplace Advocates. Her wife, Tracey Hepner, is the co-founder of the Military Partners and Families Coalition.

Protesters demonstrate outside of Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Gresham. Photo by Christopher Alvarez, PQ Monthly
Protesters demonstrate outside of Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Gresham. Photo by Christopher Alvarez, PQ Monthly

A group of activists called Northern Oregonians for Equality and Respect (NOFEAR) is circulating an online petition asking Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum to take action against two Oregon bakeries that denied services to same-sex couples — Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Gresham and Fleur Cakes in Mt. Hood. The group, which organized in response to these incidents, says that the bakeries’ actions violate the Oregon Equality Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in public accommodations.

In Washington, 13 Republicans introduced a bill into the state Senate in April that would weaken that state’s non-discrimination law after a florist came under fire for refusing to sell flowers for a same-sex wedding. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Sharon Brown and would exempt business from the law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity if providing goods or services violates their “sincerely held religious beliefs, philosophical beliefs, or matters of conscience.” While that plays out, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers is counter-suing state Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

Dustin Lance Black — the award-winning screenwriter, director, film and television producer, and LGBTQ rights activist — will be in Portland in July. He is the special guest for the 2013 HRC Portland Gala, to be held July 27 at Meriweather’s Skyline Farm. The annual outdoor event supports the work of the Human Rights Campaign in Oregon and SW Washington with a farm-fresh meal and local wines and spirits. Ticket are $200 for VIP and $150 for regular admission and Federal Club members. For more information, visit hrcportlandgala.org.

NATIONAL

The Maine Supreme Court ruled on May 30 that the National Organization for Marriage must turn over donor records from its campaign to ban same-sex marriage in the state. Fred Karger, the former Republican presidential candidate and president of Rights Equal Rights, who had previously worked to expose the financial backers behind California’s Proposition 8, filed the original complaint in the case. He called the ruling “a victory for everyone who believes in truth and transparency in elections.”

The Rev. Dr. Guy Erwin, an active member of the Osage Tribe of Indians, is the first openly gay bishop elected by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The Rev. Dr. Guy Erwin, an active member of the Osage Tribe of Indians, is the first openly gay bishop elected by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) recently elected its first-ever openly gay bishop, the Rev. Dr. Guy Erwin. The denomination had banned clergy in same-sex relationship until 2009, a position that prompted gay and lesbian clergy to serve in the closet and caused congregants to leave for more welcoming denominations. Erwin, who will serve in an area that includes Los Angeles, is also an active member of the Osage Tribe of Indians. He called the election a “significant milestone for both LGBT people and Native Americans.”

On June 1, 35 LGBT organizations released a joint letter and accompanying video called “We the LGBT” committing themselves to re-engaging the community in the fight against HIV. With issues such as marriage equality and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) taking center stage, HIV/AIDS is no longer the galvanizing issue it once was for the LGBTQ community. Despite advances in treatment, HIV continues to disproportionately affect the LGBTQ community, especially people of color. According to the letter, 63 percent of new infections in 2010 were among men who have sex with men. And while statistics for trans communities are still sparse, research indicates that about 28 percent of trans women — and 50 percent of African-American trans women — are HIV positive. The letters cosigners include the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Lambda Legal, The Transgender Law Center, SAGE, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, PFLAG National, The National Minority AIDS Council, The National Center for Lesbian Rights, and Immigration Equality, among others. Learn more at wethelgbt.org.

Looking for a global perspective? Check out Pride Around the World here.