Note: This section was produced in collaboration with ProudQueer.com, formerly known as PQ Monthly.
Portland’s LGBTQ+ history likely goes back to the first human inhabitants of the area. According to the First Nations Two-Spirit Collective, native people have celebrated gender and sexual minorities for millennia. Explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark noted a number of encounters with such individuals in Oregon. While some tribes have struggled to keep these traditions alive in the face of colonial influences, the Portland Two-Spirit Society is evidence of the resurgence of Two-Spirit pride.
Portland’s gay communities first found widespread visibility, and later organization, through the local media. In 1970, not long after the riots at Stonewall, John Wilkinson and Holly Hart wrote about Portland’s queer community in the Willamette Bridge. They called for gays and lesbians to organize, and the Portland Gay Liberation Front (PGLF) was born.
After the formation of the PGLF, advances in gay rights began to mount. Two years later, in 1972, Oregon became the fourth state to repeal its sodomy laws (enacted in 1853). By 1973, Rep. Vera Katz (who later became Portland’s mayor) had introduced the state’s first gay rights bill, which failed to pass by just two votes. There were even enough gay rights groups to hold an Oregon Gay Political Caucus. The following year, the Portland City Council adopted a resolution barring employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Portland’s first gay pride celebration took the form of indoor events such as dances, sponsored by The Second Foundation. The first outdoor public pride festival was held in 1975.
Portland saw its first AIDS-related death in 1982, and by 1983, Cascade AIDS Project and PALS (Personal Active Listeners) were formed. The 1980s also saw the beginnings of still-vibrant community institutions such as Esther’s Pantry, Portland Gay Men’s Chorus, Portland Lesbian Choir and Equity Foundation.
In 1988, the Oregon LGBTQ+ community met a foe that would provide the impetus for the next decade of activism. The Oregon Citizens Alliance (OCA), a conservative Christian group, sponsored Measure 8, which ultimately succeeded in repealing Gov. Goldschmidt’s executive order prohibiting the executive branch from discriminating based on sexual orientation in employment. The measure was overruled by the Oregon Supreme Court in 1992.
The OCA continued to fight against gay rights with 1992’s Measure 9, which sought to prevent “special rights” for gay, lesbian and bisexual people. This became a galvanizing battle for the community and led to the creation of the state’s primary LGBTQ+ rights organization, Basic Rights Oregon in 1996.
In 2006, Q Center — Portland’s first new LGBTQ+ community center since 1978 — opened its doors. The following year, the Oregon legislature passed bills banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing, public accommodations and employment based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Portland voters took that sentiment to heart in 2008 when they elected Sam Adams, the first openly gay mayor of a major U.S. city.
Adams led the Portland City Council in 2011 to unanimously make the health insurance policy for city employees transgender-inclusive. The state continues to be a leader in healthcare for transgender people.
In 2014, a U.S. District Court judge made marriage legal for all couples in the state after overturning Oregon’s ban on same-sex marriages. The Oregon district attorney declined to defend the law when it was challenged in a federal lawsuit, and the decision went into effect immediately. This was ten years after Multnomah County attempted to issue some of the first gay marriage licenses in the country in 2004.
In February 2015, Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown made history as the nation’s first openly bisexual governor when she was appointed to the position following then-Governor John Kitzhaber’s resignation. Brown, the 37th governor of Oregon, has long been a vocal advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and organizations throughout the state.
Learn More About Portland’s Queer Community – Past and Present
When was gay marriage legalized in Portland?
Legislation passed in 2007 gave same-sex couples access to domestic partnerships, but not marriage. Gay marriage became legal in Portland (and the rest of Oregon) on May 20, 2014.
Where can I learn more about the history of gay rights activism in Portland?
How can I support LGBTQ+ businesses in Portland?
Oregon Pride in Business (ORPIB) serves as the LGBTQ+ chamber of commerce for businesses in Oregon and Southwest Washington. The organization hosts networking events at LGBTQ+-owned businesses in the greater Portland area.
Portland Queer Film Festival returns every fall with an annual showcase of narrative and documentary films from around the world.
SheBrew is an all genders, all ages fundraising event to show support for female-identified members of our community, while supporting LGBTQ people here in Oregon and across the Nation. Come try local female craft beer and cider accompanied by musicians, comedians, games, raffle and community celebrities. Join us for our 3rd annual festival while celebrating…
Shop the Willamette FLEA for a delightful adventure supporting local micro-businesses. Discover a mix of vintage, collectibles, makers, and artists. Have a cup of coffee from Barista Brews and get some amazing Missionary Chocolate vegan truffles. The Willamette FLEA is a small indoor market held in NE Portland dedicated to creating an interesting market for…
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