Thursday, June 3, 2010

Queer-bashing in Portland and the police

Last night, I attended the Queer Community Town Hall at the Q Center, that was organized in response to the recent spate of queer-bashings in Portland. The mayor was there, along with the new police chief, other high level folks from the department, someone from the district attorney's office (the only law enforcement to say "we need to take ownership of our mistakes and get better"), as well as the attorney general's office and BOLI. There were also something in the range of 140 community members (we really need to get the Q Center a new air conditioner!). There are lots of things to write about last night but I want to just put a couple of things out there. Having been a part of Ed's campaign, I have been front and center for the recent upheavals and reactions involving the Portland Police Department. I am very aware of the fact that they are undergoing some serious changes, in policy as well as personnel. However, I want to point some concerns out that many folks last night expressed last night in the after-event mingling.

To those law enforcement officials present last night: First and foremost, it really doesn't do any good to tell us that you take reports of bias and hate seriously when, as evidenced by stories shared last night, experience tells us differently. Yes we know many of you are new to your current positions, but you have been, by your own accounts, in Portland law enforcement for a long time. Unfortunately, you don't get (and the feeling was that you want this) a clean slate. It would be nice if that were possible for you, as well as people who have run ins with the law, but the simple truth is that life doesn't work that way.

Second, we heard numerous times about what the policies are-new and old. However, we also heard from community members dealt with by law enforcement in a manner which violates those policies. What was asked, and not answered well, was what is the department doing to ensure adherence to its own policies? I saw this same issue over and over regarding the African American community and their relationship with police. It doesn't MATTER what the book says or what the policy is, if there are not effective and systemic mechanisms for ensuring compliance to them. Yes, we know that, in order to expect action, we need to report incidents. However, there was nothing said last night to engender the feeling of safety necessary for promoting filing reports. By the end of last night, the onus of responsibility was put upon the community to report incidents because without that, law enforcement can't do anything. One community member commented to me that "So, obviously it is our fault that they don't protect us, right?" No it isn't. Yes we need to report incidents, but you need to do your part and actually follow though, not only with reports filed, but with proactively reaching out to our community and respecting us in interactions. As was said many times by African American community members, why should I trust you enough to file a report when you don't respect me enough to give me the time of day? That's the feeling. I can report, but will that actually protect me? Will you? There is a lot of doubt about that, and with good reason. Telling us what the policy is and how much you care, isn't going to fix that.

Now, I have (as does Pride) a positive, working relationship with the police. However, I don't take that for granted and I don't assume that this will always be the case. There is too much evidence pointing to the fact that problems may occur, and too many accounts from my friends, fellow students, and other community members for me to ignore the fact that there is a systemic issue here and I have likely just lucked out so far. Fortunately, last night's town hall is only the first of many because this issue (not to mention bringing our own community together as a whole) is going to take concerted effort and some really honest deliberations.

And here is the rest of it.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

An Open Letter to the LGBTQ community from the President of Pride Northwest

Questions continue to be raised about the intentions, responsiveness and decision-making process of the Board of Pride Northwest. Since we are responsible to the entire community for our actions, we feel a need to answer these questions in a public forum, directly and, we hope, definitively.

One of the greatest misperceptions about Pride Northwest is that we make closed-door decisions that ignore the community will. Nothing could be further from the truth. Your feedback is key to our development as a community-based organization. We have listened for four years to a community that has felt abandoned by Pride, to other community organizations who felt no connection to Pride; to the marginalized communities within the larger LGBTQ community who have been searching for a voice with which to make their presence and needs known; all while still respecting and celebrating our diversity. Yes, we have been listening, and we are proud of the decisions we have made as a result.

Two years ago, for example, a few members of the community complained about our decision to restrict smoking on the festival grounds at the waterfront. In making that decision, we were responding to the serious concerns of our youth and non-smokers, including families, who objected to the health risks of exposure to second-hand smoke. That risk has been well documented and we believe it was the right thing to do for our community even in an outdoor venue.

One recent decision that has garnered some publicity concerns the changing parade route. We understand the confusion the community experienced when first one new route was announced, and then a modified version was announced a short time later. As we stated to the media there were both internal and external reasons for this change.

Externally, the city has established certain policies regarding the permitting process that we are required to follow. Much to our surprise, these policies did not favor the new route that, based upon a preliminary approval by the City, we announced in March. We were not made aware of these policies at the time, nor did the City inform us of them until after the announcement had been made. As a result we were required to shift the route again slightly, from Stark Street to Burnside. We do not think that change to be all that significant, especially as the Parade will now travel down the major East/West artery of the city and the businesses on Stark Street can continue to have their block party, which generates revenue for struggling businesses during this touch economy.

Internally, we had good reasons to change the route back to Stark Street, which we have shared publicly and will restate here. First, however, some history. The traditional parade route went down Stark Street for many years, through the heart of the LGBTQ community. The previous route was changed in 2005 by the will of the acting board at that time to create the shortest most visible route possible. Some folks with disabilities voiced concerns that the route for the parade was too long, making it difficult for them to participate. Also, a community partnership was formed with the businesses on Stark Street in order to allow them a block party while shortening the parade route. As much thought and consideration went into changing the route in 2005 as has taken place in 2010.

Some people in our community have stated that marching past Pioneer Courthouse Square provides an opportunity to challenge the notions of those outside our community about who we are, as a community; that moving back to our historical roots is akin to going back into the closet. It makes us wonder for whose benefit these critics think we operate the parade and festival. Yes, it is partly to educate our straight neighbors, but it is first and foremost a community celebration for us by us to which we invite the rest of the city. Pride is not about what “they” think of us, it’s about what we think of ourselves. In the opinion of the current board, having the parade on one street or another should not determine our opinion of who we are as a community.

When we thought about the implications of this year’s theme, “Pride to the People,” we knew we wanted the parade route to reflect where the community actually lives, works and plays. The new route expresses a commitment to bring the parade past our businesses and recreational venues. The new route invites the city to come see how we live right now. We would rather showcase the neighborhoods downtown where the community resides, drawing attention to the reality of our lives, than commit scarce resources to maintaining a “show” of visibility. Visibility is about more than parade floats once a year; it is about being present in neighborhoods, businesses, the arts and community organizations every day of the year.

We have also stated that one of our motivations for moving away from Pioneer Square was a desire to maintain or lower our costs, and with good reason. We are committed to adroit financial management of the funds entrusted us by the community. In these tight fiscal times, when many non-profits are struggling, Pride Northwest is one of the few non-profit, volunteer-run Pride organizations to remain financially sound. The money that we saved by moving away from Pioneer Square has already been reinvested to help other LGBTQ organizations working to better our community.

Some of the organizations and efforts that we have financially supported in recent years include Portland Latino Gay Pride (La Lucha!), Black Pride, the Trans March and Dyke March, the Q Center, The Gender Free for All, Our House of Portland, Basic Rights Oregon, the Elder Resource Alliance, Deaf and Hearing Outreach, the HIV Day Center, and the Sexual Minority Youth Resource Center (not a complete list). This year we have chosen to also assist the “Bridges to Independence” organizers as they struggle to provide unique services to LGBTQ people with developmental disabilities, and to honor the contribution of Native American “Two-Spirit” people. We were also major sponsors of the first ever Oregon Queer Youth Summit, a statewide queer youth empowerment partnership between SMYRC and the Safe Schools and Community Coalition. Though our Pride 365 initiative, we will continue to seek out opportunities to recognize, support, and celebrate the broad diversity of our community, in keeping with our mission.

We would like to end with a statement of the values that guide all of our decision-making, and let the community judge whether or not these are the correct priorities for Pride Northwest. We welcome your feedback at our open Board Meetings and your active participation in the organization.

As an organization, we are committed to:

•Social justice and making organizational, fiscal, and social choices that enhance the lives of those in the LGBTQ and Allied communities of Portland, of diverse backgrounds.

•A free and accessible, donation-based festival

•Diversity in the selection of speakers, entertainers, and award recipients

•Diversity in our sponsorships, partnerships, volunteers and hiring process.

•Deficit-free budgeting to ensure our financial stability and integrity

•All-volunteer and diverse Board of Directors

•An open meeting structure to which all community members are invited to participate and to voice their concerns and suggestions.

•Avoidance of taking stands on issues that may divide our community in any meaningful way. The organization and celebration of Pride is unique in that we are expected to represent and speak to the full spectrum of our community.

•Working to advance the status of traditionally disenfranchised or underrepresented groups within the LGBTQ community.

•Support for local LGBTQ and Allied vendors and businesses.

•Outreach to and partnership with community organizations committed to the equality and betterment of the LGBTQ and Allied communities.

•A unified queer community that is free of bias or discrimination in which all people are valued and respected.

Thank you for listening.
And here is the rest of it.