How to bring rural Oregon alive – 5 lessons

What does it mean when a small town paper runs a front page story that features three local community leaders who also identify as gay – a first for the leaders and the paper? What does it mean for the multiplex movie theater in town to host a movie that explores homophobia in rural America? And a standing room only crowd attends at 10:30 on a Saturday morning? What does it mean when an audience with different perspectives then discusses those differences through tears and honesty instead of the divisive politics of the last few decades?

As I read the headlines of the day (endless war, more tax breaks for the wealthy, Palin for President), it is these small ripples that seem to offer real organizing possibilities for enduring these times.

The OUT IN THE SILENCE tour of rural Oregon was a moment of dozens of such ripples. The legacy of statewide attacks on the LGBT community beginning in the late 80s is our strong web of relationships, analysis, and skills that made this film tour a huge success.

Host groups worked hard for 3 months leading up to the tour. We presented at school board meetings, city council meetings, got on TV and in the newspaper, spoke to faith congregations, tried new methods of organizing via text message and facebook.

The conversations that we had snowballed and our message of pride and respect reached thousands that we had never met before. We hosted 15 stops on this tour, got 1000 people in the room with us, and reached thousands more through the press, conversations, and online.

After the tour, filmmaker Joe Wilson wrote to us:

“We’re still riding high from our tour of Oregon, an experience that exceeded all expectations in countless ways and left us with sooooo much respect for the work ROP and other groups are doing there. We’re beginning to share its power to inspire folks in other parts of the country who aren’t nearly as organized or able to think so strategically. It was so overwhelmingly positive and inspiring that it’s hard to put into words.”

For more inspiration – follow this link to see our photos from the tour, and see below for top picks from the news outlets that covered us.

And not only did we feel moved at every stop, we learned so much to carry forward…

  • Thanks to two decades of defending ourselves against right-wing attacks, we are now capable of mobilizing for LGBT rights and beyond in ways that are unique and powerful.
  • These times are deeply divided. But when we use our voices to call for real open dialogue on even very tense issues, we can fill auditoriums with people ready for respectful conversation.
  • Rural Oregon’s queer youth need more support! At nearly every stop, youth stole the show. There was a call for older generations to support & mentor, and for younger generations to come out and take leadership.
  • As with the struggle for the basic dignity of immigrants right now, responsibility for change is shared by all, not just those most impacted by intolerance. The support of straight allies to the LGBT community was indispensable.
  • When we learn to recognize organizing opportunities, our communities pay attention. This year, we crafted our message in response to the tragedy of youth suicides – and found that we were able to use that open door to reach new supporters and expand the conversation about LGBT inclusion.

As our groups continue to promote LGBT justice in every corner of the state, we’ll also be thinking about the next step. How do we continue to stretch our wings, flex our organizing muscles, and use the incredible strength at our disposal?

ROP’s Annual Caucus and Strategy Session in Spring of 2011 is the next opportunity to come together and strategize – look for the date soon and be sure to join us!

With gratitude,

PS. If you missed the tour, you can order copies of the film here.  You can buy 5 copies of the film for $50: keep one for your screening and sell the rest to fund your event!  We would love to know about your screening and work with you to make it an event that revitalizes passion for LGBT inclusion in your community!

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‘Out in the Silence’ provokes rural communities to consider social tolerance, South County Spotlight

Coming documentary highlights same-sex marriage, Hermiston Herald

Documentary addresses gay and lesbian issues in rural communities, KDRV TV

“Out of Silence” to screen at EOU Huber Auditorium, La Grande Life

Film explores growing up gay in a rural America, East Oregonian


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