“The homophobia we faced in the forms of rock-filled snowballs, name calls, sexual harassment and assault, and religious persecution were deeply confusing and disturbing to us,” Nadir told the Multnomah County Board at its meeting on Thursday, June 8. “If I had remained in that town’s isolation, even with the support of my wonderful family, I’m certain that I would not be alive today.”
Nadir, who is from the Cherokee Nation/Aniyunwiya of the Long Hair Clan/Anigilohi, identifies as non-binary and a bi, ace (another term for asexual) queer person. At 14, they moved to Portland, where they finally saw adults who were queer and trans.
“I saw that I could grow up and that it was possible for my queer body to make it to 20, maybe even possibly make it past 40,” said Nadir, an organizer with the Oregon Queer Youth Summit and Oregon’s chapter of Queer Rock Camp. “If you google the average lifespan of a trans person, the approximation is around 40. If that is true then I stand before you middle-aged at 20.”
June marks the 47th annual recognition of Gay Pride Month, now known as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) PRIDE Month throughout the United States. The celebration honors the Stonewall riots in New York City, which served as the tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement.
The board’s proclamation comes in advance of Oregon’s largest LGBTQ cultural celebration, Pride Northwest in Portland on June 17-18. County employees will march in the parade with Prism, a “full-spectrum” County Employee Resource Group that includes more than 100 LGBTQ and ally members who contribute to the ongoing mission of inclusion and equity in Multnomah County.
Commissioner Lori Stegmann, who introduced the proclamation, said Multnomah County has stepped up in many ways at a time when political leadership is paramount for social justice, inclusivity and the sense of belonging that all people deserve.
“Discrimination, harassment, violence and suicide are all too commonplace,” Commissioner Stegmann said. “It is up to us to pass this world on to the next generation. We must call out the devastating effects this genderphobia has on our community, and especially our youth.”
Lexi Moyer, an 18-year-old from Portland and former co-chair of the Multnomah Youth Commission, is from the tribes of Isantee Dakota and Burns Paiute and identifies as pansexual and genderqueer or Two-Spirit. Moyer emphasized the importance of the youth commission in their development.
On behalf of the Multnomah Youth Commission, Moyer thanked the County for its gender neutral restrooms in county buildings, which indicate “that I’m safe and welcome in your spaces.” Moyer asked the Board of Commissioners to maintain and expand school-based mental health services, given that suicide is four times greater for queer youth than non-queer youth. Suicide is also the second-leading cause of of death among young people ages 10 to 24, they said.
The ask was even more poignant as Moyer shared what they learned while they were waiting to testify.
“I was just scrolling through Instagram,” Moyer said, “and one of my queer friends was posting to Instagram about being suicidal.”
Moyer said the post highlighted the need for the county’s LGBTQ young people to have free and confidential access to mental health care.
Nadir also highlighted the mental health needs of queer and trans people, and said they were thankful for organizations in Multnomah County, including the Sexual & Gender Minority Youth Resource Center, Q Center, Queer to Queer, the Oregon Queer Youth Summit and Queer Rock Camp.
“Experiencing this much constant stress is disastrous for our mental health,” Nadir said. “Without love, support, validation and resources, many queer and trans people turn to drugs or suicide. It is unacceptable that any human, but especially children, are being so thoroughly denied the basic human need of safety. This trauma and abuse coming at us from every angle of society is exhausting.”
Commissioner Sharon Meieran thanked the panelists for their “powerful and inspiring and brave testimony” and emphasized mental health as one of her main priorities.
Tana Barnett, a 20-year-old Multnomah Youth Commissioner and Mt. Hood Community College student, said they, as a “queer as hell Portlander,” have found a voice on the Multnomah Youth Commission, which gives young people the space to grow as leaders, activists and people.
Barnett shared a poem with the board that mimicked one of their favorite poems by T.S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men.”
I’m all bones and I’m trapped
In society’s box
Let me also hide
In deliberate disguise
Baggy clothes, silence, boots
Behaving as the grass in wind
Not that painful breaking
Like the dreams I run from
RESOURCES: If you or someone you know is having trouble functioning, seek help by calling Multnomah County’s Mental Health Call Center at 503-988-4888. A team of mental health professionals is prepared to help anyone experiencing mental health issues 24 hours a day in any language. Learn more about the Multnomah County Mental Health Call Center.
READ: PRIDE Month proclamation