Celebrating 20 Years on the Forefront of LGBTQ Equality


From Equal Rights to Equal Lives: The next revolution: Cultural Equality

By Founder Julie Davis

The last Basic Rights Oregon event I spoke at was my own going away party.  It was February 1997, and I was surrounded by many of the courageous and fierce leaders– board members, volunteers, donors and mentors–who had worked with and supported me through my early years of political activism.  

Our journey together had started in 1993, at the height of the Oregon Citizens Alliance’s attempt to pass anti-gay ballot measures in counties and towns across Oregon.  We continued working together to defeat Ballot Measure 13 in 1994, and rolled the campaign into an ongoing organization committed to maintaining campaign readiness and educating the public about the status of LGBTQ people in Oregon.  By the end of 1996, we had positioned Basic Rights Oregon as the statewide organization designed to win on Election Day, while building a long-term movement to ensure basic rights for LGBTQ Oregonians.  

At the time, the organization seemed like a radical, revolutionary achievement, but as I look back now, the revolution was actually created by individuals who acted upon the call of these words “Come out! Come out!  Where ever you are!” 

It was through the act of coming out that Oregonians –queer and straight–burst open the closet doors and ushered in an era of unprecedented visibility for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. Through the act of telling family, friends, and co-workers about their sexual orientation and gender identity – a movement for LGBTQ equality has made significant legal advancements culminating in marriage equality.

As the collective consciousness of legal equality takes shape, we are often reminded that social stigma continues to persist and pervade the daily lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people.  It’s evidenced by story after story of the gender police patrolling public restrooms, children experiencing bullying at school, or families who still refuse to acknowledge their new son or daughter in law by familial names.  The daily-lived experiences of so many LGBTQ people is represented in the numbers from study after study pointing to the disparities in income, health, housing and quality of live.

As we explore the possibilities for what we, working together with Basic Rights Oregon, might achieve in the next 20 years, I think is important to consider how we move beyond equal rights to equal lives and achieve cultural equality.  

Imagine if the research, knowledge and lessons learned from the marriage equality struggle became the basis for understanding the root causes of people’s basic disapproval and discomfort with queer people. Imagine if new insights about the human brain, our basic drive to be connected and the power of story to increase empathy were used to create new conversations that fundamentally alter how queer and straight folks engage and interact. 

Before returning to Oregon in 2014, I was working with an interdisciplinary team of academics, community advocates, applied researchers and communication strategists conducting new social science research to establish what triggers peoples’ disapproval and discomfort with queer people.  The project was called Face Value, and based on our new research and analysis of prior research, the team developed a deeper understanding of what it would take to disrupt stigma.  Face Value’s research pointed toward conversations and engaging interactions as the key to eliminating stigma and moving toward a deeper understanding of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people, our families and communities. 

It’s no longer just about coming out.  It’s about fundamentally altering how we, as a society, understand, relate to and communicate about what it means to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer. It’s about changing how we, queer and straight, talk about sexuality, sexual orientation and gender identity.  It’s about prompting conversations that move beyond the combative nature of being “for” or “against” homosexuality and challenging the sense of “otherness” often imposed on queer people. 

As Oregonians, as committed members of the Basic Right Oregon community, we have the ability to be leaders in a culture change movement.  Every conversation we prompt, every partnership we ignite, and every person we inspire to engage in authentic interactions is helping to make cultural equality possible for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.  Working together, we can usher in an era of unprecedented appreciation, recognition and celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people.  A time when everyone is literally taken at face value.

Julie served as the founding executive director of Basic Rights Oregon from 1996-97. If you have a memory from the last 20 years of our movement, or a vision for the next 20 that you’d like to share, submit it here and we’ll profile you.