Pioneering Straight Ally Gretchen Kafoury Dies

By George T. Nicola, GLAPN

In 1973, a small group of Oregonians in the state’s recently launched gay movement wanted to obtain non-discrimination legal protection for the first time. However, none of us had political experience. One day a friend introduced me to a sympathetic straight woman named Gretchen Kafoury. Gretchen had been hired by a coalition of women’s rights organizations to lobby the 1973 Oregon Legislature on feminist issues. Gretchen took me to Salem and taught me the art of citizen advocacy.
Gretchen, Representative Vera Katz, and Gretchen’s ex-husband Representative Stephen Kafoury showed me how to write the bill, gather sponsors, and lobby. I would have had no idea how to proceed without their mentorship.
House Bill 2930 sought to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment and housing. We gathered 17 sponsors, and the bill failed House passage by just two votes short of a majority. But our efforts helped build a sense of purpose and identity instrumental in the evolution of today’s Oregon LGBTQ movement. So Gretchen gave us a huge boost when we really needed it. Oregon finally enacted such a law in 2007, with sexual orientation defined to include gender identity.
In the meantime, Gretchen helped us on the local level. In 1985, she was elected Multnomah County Commissioner. There she successfully pushed for a resolution that banned sexual orientation discrimination in county employment.
In 1991, when on the Portland City Council, Gretchen helped pass an ordinance that banned sexual orientation discrimination in all employment, housing, and public accommodations in the city. In fact she allowed her staff member lesbian activist Kathleen Saadat to help write the law. Just before leaving the City Council in 1998, Gretchen started working toward strategies that would ban discrimination based on gender identity.
Gretchen was a founder of Oregon National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1970 and the Oregon Women’s Political Caucus in 1971. The two groups were cornerstones of Oregon’s modern women’s movement. Gretchen also took a keen interest in health care, mental health care, criminal justice, homelessness, poverty, and teen health centers.
Certainly there are few people in Oregon history who have advanced human rights and dignity as much as Gretchen did. On March 13, Gretchen passed away. She left an Oregon that is a much kinder and humane place than it was before her. For more information, see: http://glapn.org/6464KafouryKatzKafoury.html and http://glapn.org/6100kafoury.html.