What Does Courage Mean to You? A History of LGBTQ Organizing In Rural Oregon‏

Figure out what courage means to you. To me, courage means speaking up for your values even if you are the only one. If you’re going to be timid, you’re not going to be very effective. What are you willing to give – to do – to make a difference in this world? – Kathleen Saadat (Interview with Kelley Weigel of Western States Center)

June 25th, 2014

Dear ROPnetters,

June kicks off Pride month for the LGBTQ community. 2014 – the year that marks marriage equality in Oregon – is a year to celebrate pride, courage, justice and all the human dignity group leaders who helped us reach this moment.

Sarah Loose, ROP’s own oral historian and coordinator of the ROP Roots & Wings Project, has put together this slideshow of snapshots of inspiring work for LGBTQ justice in rural Oregon over the last 20 years.

Take 15 minutes to review and remember some of our history and our organizing over the years.
Click here to view the timeline.

You will find short snippets of oral history interviews, photos of the first Rural Caucus & Strategy Session, examples of human dignity group organizing and more. Were you one of the communities that ROP Founder Marcy Westerling visited during the Ballot Measure 9 campaign? Hear Marcy talk about these early years of ROP and human dignity work. Remember the Anne Frank exhibit tour in 1994? Or screenings of Out in the Silence in 2010?

Our origins: In the early 1990s, rural Oregon was a battleground for the Christian Right “culture wars.” You couldn’t go to the grocery store or post office without passing signs that said “Homosexuality is a sin” and being asked to sign onto Ballot Measure 9.

Many progressive rural Oregonians did not yet know the full extent to which the growth of a reactionary right was a national phenomenon, but we did know that our communities were under siege.

To cope, progressive small town community members started congregating. Together, with ROP’s Founder Marcy Westerling, we gathered in living rooms and church basements to assess what we were seeing in our communities and what we could do about it. And this led to the organizing of human dignity groups. It was an organic response that many small town progressives arrived at simultaneously – we needed progressive infrastructure in order to push back.

To me, this is the definition of courage. Feeling, knowing and acting on the notion that scapegoating, attacking and creating second class citizenship (sound familiar?!) is wrong and finding a way to speak up for your values. This was all the more courageous in 1992 when the Religious Right was fervently organizing on “wedge” issues in small town communities and progressive infrastructure in our towns was minimal if existent at all.

Twenty-two years later we have so much to celebrate. Same sex marriage is legal in Oregon. Human dignity groups cover the map of rural Oregon. Many of the same leaders who first stepped up to challenge Ballot Measure 9 in their communities are still working today for dignity and justice for all. (Some of them were the very first signers of the marriage ballot measure that no longer needs to go to the ballot!). And hundreds and thousands more have joined them to grow and expand our movement for human dignity in small town Oregon.

Congratulations to the human dignity leaders that stood up in 1992, to those who have stayed in the fight for over 2 decades, and to those who kept the struggle for LGBTQ justice alive in their communities. And congratulations to all of those who have joined since and helped to expand our collective work, staying on the front lines until we truly reach liberty and justice for all.

Our Roots & Wings timeline of LGBTQ justice work in rural Oregon captures just a small snapshot of the work of human dignity groups and ROP leaders at this time. Send us your thoughts: what do you remember during this time or what does the slideshow bring up for you? Email cara@rop.org and cara@rop.org with your stories.