By Jeana Frazzini
When I joined the board of Basic Rights Oregon in 2000, Oregon was ground zero for anti-LGBTQ attacks.
How times have changed.
Today, Oregon is rated the second most LGBTQ-friendly states in the nation because we won broad discrimination protections in the Oregon Equality Act, our schools are safer thanks to the Oregon Safe Schools Act, transgender Oregonians can access life-saving care through Medicaid, and LGBTQ youth no longer have to endure conversion therapy thanks to the Youth Mental Health Protection Act.
So many people have been a part of making these victories happen. I give so much thanks to the activists who, more than twenty years ago, envisioned an organization that would serve as the first line of defense for LGBTQ Oregonians and proactively push for legal and lived equality. So much of what Basic Rights Oregon was fighting for then and now still fires me up, because it is a part of my own story.
I grew up in rural Ellensburg, Washington, a small town of about 20,000 people back then. While I grew up with a lot of privilege (Frazzini’s Pizza Place was a community hub), Ellensburg was not a place where I felt comfortable being open and I could not see myself raising a family there. Being LGBTQ was not celebrated or talked about.
I remember learning from my mom, decades after leaving, that one of my grade school classmate’s parents were in a committed lesbian relationship. No one ever mentioned this when I was young. I didn’t come to understand my own sexuality until Ellensburg was long behind me.
There have been positive changes in Ellensburg and in similar small towns and rural communities all over Oregon. But people who are LGBTQ still live in the shadows, afraid of losing their jobs, being bullied at school, or endangering their families. During the last year, Basic Rights’ statewide engagement program has taken us to communities like Dallas, where we witnessed the vitriol hurled at a transgender youth last fall. It was heartbreaking.
As I leave Basic Rights Oregon after 16 years, I am filled with so much hope when I see the important role it still plays in supporting these communities. People as far away as Umatilla county call us for guidance, training, or community education.
This year alone, we held transgender education workshops in Dallas, Pendleton, and Salem, and the response was amazing. Each one was packed, full of families, youth, and local leaders eager to learn together. LGBTQ Oregonians still look to us a reliable source of support, knowing that we’ll never let our phones go unanswered.
And, across the nation, Oregon remains a beacon of hope. That’s how I know this organization is on the right path. When I think about the two amazing women leading it—Nancy Haque, a first-generation American Muslim, and Amy Herzfeld, a native of Boise, Idaho—I know that they have an intimate understanding of our work in racial justice, engaging LGBTQ people in rural areas and small towns, and fighting for justice for LGBTQ immigrants and their families.
My confidence in Basic Rights Oregon is stronger than ever before.
And that’s why I want you to recommit your pledge to LGBTQ equality in my honor. Basic Rights Oregon is doing more critical work today than at any time in its 20-year history. The phones have not stopped ringing: transgender youth fighting for dignity and respect; folks who’ve been denied healthcare or a job; and communities, like Ellensburg or Dallas, calling in desperate need of support and guidance.
Your continued support—your money, your time, your skills—ensures that Basic Rights continues as the beacon of hope our founders envisioned.
Finally, this isn’t farewell, but goodbye for now. I look forward to seeing you at Ignite.
Jeana Frazzini served Basic Rights Oregon for 16 years–four years on the board of directors and 10 years on staff. She served as executive director beginning December 2007.