This is part two of a two-part report on what 2005 brought for Oregon's gay community and what is coming for Oregon's gay rights movement in 2006. Read Part One here.
As 2006 approaches, Oregon's GLBT rights movement has a lot to look forward to. It is inevitably going to be a year of ups and downs - though my predictions are many more ups - than downs. Why? Because every indication is that it is our time. We have an opportunity to make change like never before on our own terms. Opportunity, though, is only part of the equation. In order to create major change, we need to have a bigger base of involvement from not only the gay community, but also our straight allies.
To understand why we are now poised for change like never before, you first have to understand where we have been. This year--2006 will mark the ten year anniversary of Basic Rights Oregon (BRO), the largest and most influential GLBT rights advocacy group in Oregon. (The organization has been in some sort of existence for nearly 18 years, it's only officially been called Basic Rights Oregon for 10 years)
What would later become BRO was formed after the first of the Oregon Citizen's Alliance anti-gay ballot measures in 1988 by community members who knew that fighting these ballot measures would require a year-round organization, not just a periodic campaign. And the founders of BRO also knew that we couldn't just be defensive-we needed an organization in Oregon that would proactively work for equality.
While change has been made (look at anti-discrimination ordinances in counties and cities across the state as just one example of success), the truth is that our movement and the activism of Oregonians on GLBT issues has been largely defined by and limited to defending ourselves from extremist attacks at the ballot and in the legislature. That's partly because those battles sucked every bit of energy and resources we had out of our movement.
What many Oregonians don't know was that after each defensive ballot measure campaign over the past two decades the movement and BRO as an organization were deeply wounded. BRO was nearly always left with no continuous, experienced staff, in significant debt and forced to start from square one to rebuild for the next battle. Going into Measure 36, BRO wanted to make sure that this would not be the case - and they succeeded in that hope ending the campaign with continuous staff an enormous base of volunteers that followed into the legislative session and no campaign debt. And even though our community lost at the ballot, we came out on top on other fronts.
Ladies and gentlemen we are no longer on the defensive. While we should never forget that we are and will continue to be under attack in some way or another - we will spend 2006 and beyond working for equality on our terms. Our community is now more visible than ever before. The terms of the struggle have changed. Mark my words: 2006 will be unapologetic, determined and strategic. It will prove to be a banner year in the fight for full equality here in Oregon. And, although we may not see that work result in visible victory in 2006, we will lay a foundation this year that ensures that we will win. What we do now will determine the next five, ten and even twenty years of Oregon's fight for equal treatment under the law. The work is now within the movement, within the community. Oregon is ready - and we all need to demand nothing less than their full attention.
According to Rebekah Kassell, Communications Director at Basic Rights Oregon, BRO has developed, with much community input, a three-year strategy plan to build political power and create lasting change. This plan requires that we work on each and every front available to us to create change - be it in the state legislature, state courts or our own neighborhood.
BRO's three-year plan means that this year the organization will work to elect fair-minded candidates to the Oregon Legislature (particularly the Oregon House) and county and local governments. BRO will also work to challenge those legislators that stood in the way of equality in 2005. We all know who these people are - and no I am not pinpointing just one person.
This is all a part of a strategy to go into the 2007 legislative session with as much political power as possible.
My gut feeling is that if the Oregon legislature will not act - the movement will go from city-to-city, county-by-county until every single GLBTQ person in this state is protected by an anti-discrimination ordinance. And shit - if it were me, I'd be filing lawsuit after lawsuit until we see progress. Wishful thinking?
BRO will also work to build grassroots power in key legislative districts and counties around the state-power that if harnessed will help us to win in the legislature AND at the ballot, whether it is a proactive measure put forward by our community or defending against another attack from the radical right. This can take many forms, including mini campaigns to pass antidiscrimination ordinances or forming a Basic Rights Action Team.
Public Education will be a huge part of the work in 2006 as well. We all know that all the power in the world can only create temporary wins in 2006 if we don't change hearts and minds at the same time.
Oregon courts will also play an important role in the fight for equality. BRO has already filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn Measure 36 and that case will be heard by the Oregon Court of Appeals in mid-2006. In addition, BRO promises to file additional lawsuits to force the state to answer constitutional questions about whether the state can legally discriminate against couples and individuals based on sexual orientation. Our opinion? NO.
"We cannot afford to approach our fight from only one angle," said Rebekah Kassell of Basic Rights Oregon in an interview with GayRightsWatch.com. "No movement has ever achieved full equality by pursuing only one method of change. Courts have always played a leading role, but courts alone will not end discrimination. Public education is important to build support for equality, but public education alone is not enough. We already have more than 80% support statewide for anti-discrimination legislation, but that public will does not automatically translate into law. Grassroots power is critical to success in ballot measure or legislative campaigns, but massive lobbying from around the state can't by itself make a bill the law. And, working to take Speaker of the House Karen Minnis out of office is an important way to build political power, but to really win we need to change more than one seat in the Oregon legislature this year."
Kassell continued, "Each of these components works together in our 3-year campaign. 2006 is just the beginning, but it will set the tone for where we end up and how quickly we reach our goal of full equality in this state."
So, to my fellow Oregonians - we've got a huge year ahead of us. It is a lot of work and I hope that Oregon's GLBTQ community will join together in this fight. DO NOT expect that others will do it for you. YOU need to be involved. Gay, straight - whatever. If you are an ally, it's time to come out of the woodwork. Contribute. Volunteer. Or at a minimun just sign up for the email updates. Get involved - stay involved.
It's been a wonderful year here on Gay Rights Watch and I hope you all continue to come back. Peace out boys and girls. This is our last post of 2005. Next week we will feature a special report about Portland's own, newly established, Q Center.
Have a fantastic New Years!
Post by Bryan Harding