Zan Gibbs helped found SMYRC (Sexual Minorities Youth Resource Center) in 1998 with two youth, and headed the program for 12 years.
One of the features that set SMYRC apart at the time—and distinguishes it now—is the notion of youth empowerment: youth run the program, and the “director” facilitates. Not all director-types are cut out to work that way, because it gives up a lot of control. On the other hand, sexual minority youth, already living on the edge, aren’t into having another set of grownups telling them what to do, and they’ll abandon programs that treat them that way.
Today that approach has a name: “anti-oppression principles with high-risk populations.” It worked over and over at SMYRC, and 12 years worth of former SMYRC youth look up to Zan as a role model, a mentor, a source of inspiration, a leader, and a very, very good listener.
When Zan left SMYRC, she left a strong tradition of youth empowerment, which persists in the organization, although the original SMYRC youth have long since aged out of the program.
SMYRC survives today, in part, because of this tradition and Zan continues to use these skills in her work in public health. Zan continues to do anti-oppression work in Portland, leading racial justice trainings for a variety of constituents.
In the winter of 2014, Zan joined the interim board at Q Center, sharing her special brand of anti-oppression leadership as the organization learned to listen to, and honor, its clientele. The picture shows Zan with a former SMYRC youth, the amazing Jinkx Monsoon.
Dr. Ira Pauly is a cisgender straight man, but as a psychiatrist at University of Oregon Medical School, he was advocating for trans patients—specifically, sex reassignment surgery—as early as 1961.
By that time, surgery had progressed to the point of having real potential for trans people. The case of Oregon’s Alan L. Hart (1917) was the first known use of surgery in transition. There were accounts of surgical reassignments in Europe in the 1920-1930s, and Christine Jorgensen’s widely-publicized transition (in Denmark) in 1952 moved discussion out of academic circles and into the popular press.
Understanding the psychology of transgender people has been a slower process. Being trans was generally understood as a mental illness, and attempted “cures” could be cruel and were certainly pointless. Clinicians such as Dr. Pauly (and endocrinologist Dr. Harry Benjamin, who consulted and collaborated with Pauly) began to understand that their transgender patients, instead of being mentally ill, were quite accurately describing their situations, and that for some, surgery was the only alternative. It was a radical position to take at the time. Ira Pauly devoted most of his career, at University of Oregon and at the University of Nevada at Reno, to trans issues, and served as president of the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association (now the World Professional Association for Transgender Health) from 1985-1987.
Ira Pauly was an outstanding football and rugby player at UCLA, and with Pauly starting both as center and linebacker, went to the Rose Bowl in 1953. The photo is from that era.
PQ Monthly will be occasionally printing Queer Heroes from June 2015 throughout the rest of the year.