By George T. Nicola, GLAPN
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. In commemoration, Portland State University was hosting sponsor for an October 6 program remembering Oregon’s own civil rights legacy by honoring the organizations and individuals leading the fight for equality and justice. The evening award ceremony was opened by Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown, the highest ranking LGBTQ public official in Oregon. She was followed by a diverse and inclusive group of speakers and awardees.
Two LGBTQ activists were recognized. Khalil Edwards, PFLAG Portland Black Chapter Coordinator and Basic Rights Oregon Racial Justice and Alliance Building Organizer, received a Rising Leaders Award. The award was presented to him by HIV/AIDS activist and Cascade AIDS Project employee Maurice Evans who has also been involved in PFLAG Portland Black Chapter. The organization is the first PFLAG chapter in the nation created by and for the black community. It is dedicated to supporting African American LGBTQ persons, families, and friends through love, education and advocacy.
Vanessa Usui was given a Modern Day Civil Rights Champions Award. Vanessa is an attorney and is currently board Chair of Basic Rights Oregon. The award was presented to her by Basic Rights Oregon’s Executive Director Jeana Frazzini. Founded in 1996, Basic Rights Oregon is the state’s chief advocacy, education and political organization dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In fulfilling its mission to build power for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Oregonians, the organization has secured historic victories such as enacting a comprehensive and inclusive non-discrimination policy in 2007, as well as in 2012, making Oregon the first state to clarify that transgender-specific health insurance exclusions violate Oregon law.
Also winning a Rising Leaders Award was Cyreena Boston Ashby. Cyreena is a dedicated straight
ally and a Basic Rights Oregon board member. Professionally she is the Director of the Portland African
American Leadership Forum which coordinates policy advocacy and leadership development for African
Americans in Oregon.
LGBTQ participation in the ceremony was a tribute to the hard work done by so many in our
community, and to the progress we have made because of that.