The Board of County Commissioners proclaimed June 2020 as Pride Month for the LGBTQ+ community Thursday, June 25, commemorating 50 years since the first march on Christopher Street in New York on the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots.
Multnomah County has been the site of Pride celebrations each third weekend in June since 1976. As an organization, the County has celebrated Pride annually since 1992. Multnomah County’s Office of Diversity and Equity sponsors PRISM and Queer and Trans People of Color (QTPOC), two Employee Resource Groups that serve more than 200 LGBTQ+ employees and ally members who contribute to the ongoing mission of inclusion and equity in Multnomah County.
“Pride is an opportunity to celebrate the freedom to love and be oneself, and it’s also a time to come together as a community to celebrate the rights that have been so hard won,” said Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson, who co-sponsored the event alongside Commissioner Susheela Jayapal. “But it is important that it is not just a time for celebration, but it is also an opportunity for us to commit to the ongoing and necessary work needed to ensure that all our LGBTQ siblings are treated equally.”
This year’s event comes in the midst of pressure and uncertainty as communities cope with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. A national outcry against police killings of unarmed Black people have also shed light on continued widespread discrimination against Black, Indigenous and other People of Color who belong to the LGBTQ+ community.
A panel of speakers representing Prism, Multnomah County’s LGBTQ+ employee resource group, and other members of the community shared their experiences with the Board in a virtual meeting. Despite all the advancements the LGBTQ+ community has experienced, participants said, more needs to be done to achieve justice.
“For me, one of the major struggles right now is overall acceptance in general for trans women of color,” said Alexxis Robinson-Woods, the services director at Bradley Angle. “As much as I would like to be wonderfully excited about it, I struggle right now with the fact that we have a lot more work to do than I thought that we did.”
Iden Campbell, a panelist who works for Basic Rights Oregon, echoed Woods. According to Campbell, this year’s Pride Month is an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the experience of transgender people and the continued need for progress.
“In this moment in time, I am hoping that the community will go back to what the original Pride was, and that was fighting against police injustice, but also community injustice, as well, and think about moving forward in the future how we can support trans people . . . and support us through economic justice and housing equality, and especially in an area like Portland.”
For KC Covington, who investigates protected class complaints, the County has been largely welcoming. Despite all the progress the County has made in recognizing LGBTQ+ rights, Covington said they are still likely to be misgendered in public.
“As soon as I venture outside of the support of the bubble of my work and into the county, I am more likely to be misgendered,” Covington said. “Mistakes happen and I try to correct folks but the hurt comes when they expect me to reassure them or make them feel better about the situation.”
Board members share their experiences with Pride
Last year, Commissioner Jayapal said she went to Connecticut to celebrate a graduation with family. There were eight family members, ranging from 7 to 29. In those eight, Commissioner Jayapal said, almost every part of the LGBTQ+ spectrum was represented. That moment made her feel proud.
“I thought about the fact that 50 years ago that room would be the same. We would have been the same people. They would have had the same experiences, felt who they were the same way, and loved who they loved the same, but they would have been forced to keep that hidden,” Commissioner Jayapal said.
During this time of year, Chair Deborah Kafoury said, Portland would normally be preparing to celebrate the annual Pride Parade. With large gatherings canceled due to the pandemic, she said, now is a time to focus on actionable change.
“I’m actually grateful that this year we have to dig a little deeper and think a little harder about what Pride means. It’s not just about the celebration. It’s about stopping and ending police brutality. It’s about economic justice. It's about affordable housing and it's about workplace protections."