GLBT stories span the generations
A few older people — and one young person — described their moment of pride during a Celebration of Generations event as part of 2017 Pride.
"It's rare for multiple generations to appear on the same stage," said Paul Iarrobino, a master storyteller from Portland and master of ceremonies for the June 14 event.
About 75 people attended the gathering at Portland Community College Cascade campus in North Portland. In addition to Pride Northwest and the Queer Resource Center on campus, sponsors were AARP Oregon and Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders of Metro Portland.
A couple of speakers are designated as "Queer Heroes," as conferred by the Gay and Lesbian Archives of the Pacific Northwest and Portland's Q Center beginning in 2012.
George Nicola was chief advocate for Oregon's first nondiscrimination legislation based on sexual orientation. House Bill 2930 came within two votes of passage in 1973. It took several attempts until a bill finally became law in 2007, along with a bill granting broad rights to same-sex domestic partners. (Same-sex couples in Oregon won the right to marriage in a 2014 decision by the U.S. District Court.)
"But the hearing we had on that (1973) bill was important because we had people speak publicly to the issues involved in our civil rights," Nicola said.
When Margaret-Ann Jones — daughter of a Pentecostal preacher — came to study at Portland State University's School of Social Work in 1992, she finally felt free.
"My story is that when I came out and did not care, I felt brave and was ready to take on anybody who said anything (bad) about me being a lesbian," Jones said.
But she also ended up taking on the challenge of racial discrimination that permeated the city and the GLBT community.
In retirement, Jones volunteers at Ainsworth United Church of Christ and numerous other organizations.
Robin Will is president of the Gay and Lesbian Archives of the Pacific Northwest, which he first became aware of and contributed to after he went to PSU to complete a college degree a decade ago. A PSU requirement is for a Capstone project that involves students in the community, including interviews with older residents.
Will said he looked at the material already collected on the early days of gay activism.
"I thought this is spectacular and that's how I first felt I was proud," Will said. "I also felt I had something to do…. I believed (before) that everybody who needed to know I was gay already knew, and I was not going to make a point of it."
Monica Hamm is relatively new to Oregon — two years — but she had a long career in the Air Force and Coast Guard before she became a federal civilian employee.
There was a time, dating back to the 1950s, when federal employees were denied security clearances if they were gay — a 1995 executive order by President Bill Clinton lifted that ban — and a "don't ask, don't tell" policy was in effect for the armed services from 1994 until it was repealed in 2011.
Hamm is a participant in a video presentation by the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs, which will release the full version on Nov. 11.
"Finally the time has come that things have changed," Hamm said.
"I was able to tell my story in a video. It is emotional, truthful and heartfelt of people from different generations, serving in the military from the 1970s until now.
"I have not felt this yet, but my proudest moment is that any place and any time, I can be me all the time."
The state agency now works with veterans to help them remove negative references to their sexual orientation from their military records – a step that clears the way for them to receive full federal benefits.
There was one awkward moment during the event when a transgender person scheduled to speak angrily stalked out of the room after Iarrobino inadvertently referred to "him."
Another transgender person, who asked to be known as "Aaron" or "Babie," acknowledged to the audience that gender identity is a new subject for many people.
"It's not about getting angry or upset. When someone does not have that knowledge, it's about identifying, educating and understanding that it is not going to happen overnight," he said to applause.
"We have to be patient and form a bridge between generations. You have to be able to receive information and give it. That is one of the most important things about an event like this."