Gender Justice takes Courage: Thoughts from Rural Oregon

It is important to tell my story because even though I felt alone at certain times in my life, I knew I wasn’t, I knew there were others out there going through the exact same thing. And people were working to make things better for gay and lesbian causes, people were standing up for rights and learning more, publishing their thoughts, motivating others, influencing legislation, operating suicide hot lines and leading parades.

Yes, fear is a pervading thought, and safety is always at the back of my mind living in my town. And as much as I would love to live where people don’t blink when two people of the same sex walk down the street holding hands, this is where I am, this is where I am from and this is my community. I believe education is the key, this isn’t a complex issue; it is a civil rights issue. It is about recognizing citizens in our communities who are building their families and living their lives despite homophobia and discrimination, and not pointing out the differences but the similarities, uniting communities rather than dividing them. This is who we are, this is who we love, this is where we live.
– Chelsea Fine, Josephine County
Since ROP’s founding nearly 20 years ago, rural Oregon has often been a scary and even dangerous place for gay people and their families. So when leaders from communities from Josephine to Columbia to Baker Counties decided to participate in a campaign for Marriage Equality in rural Oregon…let’s just say we were impressed.
ROP has been working with human dignity groups to figure out how to make small-town Oregon a safer and more welcoming place for queer people. We’ve partnered with Basic Rights Oregon, PFLAG, and the Community of Welcoming Congregations on a campaign to win marriage equality at the ballot box, which is a part of gender justice for many people…but we’ve also been finding that there are many intertwined dimensions of what "gender justice" even means.
As we work to win marriage rights (as soon as 2012!) we also keep present today’s reality and a view of the economic crisis through a gender justice lens. As organizer Suzanne Pharr – who will be joining us here in Oregon in a few short days(!) – recently put it:
"There is the great-grandmother who is now raising not only her grandchild but her great grandchild; the transwoman leaving prison to face the impossibility of a job; the gay disabled man who has lost benefits; the 55 year old single African American woman who has been downsized from her job and has no insurance; the Appalachian teenage mother who has no one to rely on but her parents who can pick up only part-time work.  The impact is different for each, but each results from a culture of economic injustice." (see Suzanne’s blog here)
We give thanks for being able to participate in a broad movement for justice of all kinds, one that needs courageous people on all fronts to address every facet and angle of oppression.  There is a rainbow patchwork of organized resistance, and when we win marriage, we’ll be one step closer to the world that I, personally, want to live in.
Read on for more powerful first hand stories from small town human dignity leaders about what it means to be struggling for equal rights in rural Oregon.
And thank you ROPers for your dedication to justice,


As a daughter of a gay man who never had the opportunity to marry, it’s imperative to me to work on this campaign.  The discrimination that has been focused on gays and lesbians through the generations has caused a lot of harm to the entire structure of "family".  By not being able to marry, gays and lesbians pressured themselves into "bearded" relationships with straights, and that kind of repression of identity has itself been harmful to society and the institution of marriage.  I’m proud to be able to work with ROP and BRO and anyone else to promote equal rights for all people.
– Dixie Lynn Parker in Wasco County
I am a physician in Southern Oregon.  Whenever I have taken a public stance on Gay issues, My "Christian" brothers have unsuccessfully attempted to ruin my business by scheduling appointments for evaluations and not coming to these appointments.  This has been a concerted effort among our community churches on more than one occasion.  Thus I have learned over 25 years to work for things I think are right, such as civil rights for all Americans. The Christian churches in my area are so vindictive, I have learned to not take a public stance on civil rights for Gay and Lesbian issues.
– Anonymous in Southern Oregon
Marriage matters to me because currently full rights as a citizen in our country are being denied to my son and his peers and friends.  How can we let this continue?  We have an African American President right now . . . that is something that many folks never thought would happen.  Now is the time – our children can’t wait any longer to be full citizens!  It is a bit scary to think of leading a campaign for marriage rights in our very redneck, right-wing county.  However, I feel that it’s OK to stand up and speak out on what we believe should be a part of every citizen’s rights in this United States of America.  My concern is for those who are LGBT in our community to feel safe.  I feel comfortable talking about my role as a Mom of son but worry about those individuals feeling safe in speaking out for marriage.
– Kirby Erickson in Josephine County
Marriage Equality will elevate us to the status of human being deserving of human rights shared by all. Marriage will basically validate the fundamental right to same sexual relations that has historically been criminalized.  How do I feel to be on the front end of a campaign for marriage?  I feel pretty fearless about being a part of the Marriage Matters campaign. This either makes me incredibly stupid, or incredibly optimistic.
– Sherri B. in Josephine County 
PS. Want to hear more about what Oregonians are saying about marriage?  Check out these videos of Oregonians sharing why Marriage Matters to them.  Also let us know if you’d be interested in sharing your story in writing with us about what being queer in rural Oregon is like for you, or in inviting a Freedom to Marry videographer for a special appearance at an event.
PPS. Maybe you have organizing plans on the horizon that could benefit from a little extra support?  The Equity Foundation has an open call for grant proposals to any group working on queer rights organizing in Oregon.  Though people power is the basis and the strength of the work we do, a small nest egg can help make organizing events or doing outreach by mail that much easier.  Take a look here if you think your group could benefit from this kind of small grant, and contact ROP if you need a critical eye and ear to support you.