Dr. Tyler TerMeer, the chief executive officer of Cascade AIDS Project, began his remarks to the Board of County Commissioners Thursday with a brief history lesson.
“On a summer night in 1969, a small bar in Greenwich Village was packed wall to wall with drag queens, gay men, lesbians, bisexual, transgender, and queer people of all colors. They were having the time of their lives when police came into the bar, announced a raid, and began checking IDs and making arrests.”
For five nights, brave individuals rose up at the Stonewall Inn in New York City, solidifying a turning-point moment for LGBT rights in the United States.
“Now, five decades later we are continuing their fight,” he said.
In addition to recounting the events at Stonewall, Dr. TerMeer spoke about his own experience as a Black queer man. Though the path toward equality has been difficult and dangerous for those in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual and Two-spirit (LGBTQIA2S+) community, Dr. TerMeer’s final message was one of hope.
“If I’ve learned anything in my 17 years living with HIV and working in the field of LGBTQIA2S+ rights, it is that we are a resilient people,” he said. “Even in our darkest days, we find ways to move forward, to understand the landscape before us, set new priorities, stand strong and ground ourselves as we continue to build resilience in the world in front of us.”
Co-sponsored by Commissioners Jessica Vega Pederson and Sharon Meieran, the Board’s proclamation recognized June as Pride Month in Multnomah County and reaffirmed the County’s commitment to serving the LGBTQIA2S+ community and addressing the multiple types of oppression and harm that members of this community face.
“Multnomah County acknowledges and affirms a commitment to address disproportionate economic and health outcomes and barriers to essential resources and services this community experiences,” the proclamation reads.
“We recognize that BIPOC and transgender members of this community experience bias and discrimination in our system at higher rates due to the intersections of racism, misogyny, transphobia, and homophobia. Multnomah County remains committed to deconstructing systemic racism, transphobia, and homophobia by supporting culturally specific and community led organizations, programs, initiatives, and services.”
This year’s Pride Month marks the 51st march on Christopher Street, a day of liberation one year after the riots at the Stonewall Inn, to commemorate community members standing up against state-sanctioned oppression against the LGBTQIA2S+ community. Multnomah County has supported Pride Month celebrations since 1992, led by employees who are members of the community.
Commissioner Meieran said that the community has been particularly impacted this year because many social and cultural hubs that serve LGBTQIA2S+ people have been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and explained why the work is so crucial to her personally.
“This work matters to me in so many ways: as a community member, as a physician, as a commissioner, and most importantly, as the mother of two awesome, amazing, queer trans children who have taught me so much about gender identity and love,” she said.
Several others joined the board members and Dr. TerMeer at the proclamation reading, including Multnomah County’s Chief Diversity and Equity Officer Ben Duncan and Debra Porta, the executive director of Pride Northwest. Virginia Luka, a senior program specialist for the County’s Public Health Division, also spoke.
In his statement before the proclamation, Duncan underscored the work done by LGBTQIA2S+ members in the County, acknowledging that many “have to do so much of their work so fully in their identity.”
“We know we have a long way to go. We all also recognize that rainbow flags and proclamations don’t equal justice,” Duncan said. “As we do our work to implement steps and practices of inclusively leading with race, it’s important that we continue to invest both internally in our workforce equity efforts and externally in intersectional work.”
Porta thanked the County for continuing to uphold their commitment to the LGBTQIA2S+ community.
"We have the potential benefit here of being able to take [LGBTQIA2S+ rights] for granted in Multnomah County, and we do so to our own detriment,” she said.
“To know that Multnomah County did not choose to minimize and end their recognition this year, when there is so much other stuff that needs to be done, is important. It’s an important part of moving the work forward.”
Luka drew upon her personal life to highlight the intersection of race and gender while sharing about the unique experiences of queer, transgender Pacific Islanders (QTPI) like herself.
“Queer and trans spaces tend to center around the white queer and trans experience, while Pacific Islander communities can come from homophobic and transphobic backgrounds because of conservative religious practices,” she said. “So while these intersecting experiences of oppression have been challenging to navigate, QTPIs still carry our love for our families by organizing community, affirming our entire, whole identities.”
Luka encouraged greater investment in institutions that preserve Pacific Islander histories and teach about the roles queer and trans Pacific Islanders played in their communities before colonization so that the QTPI community can “understand who we are and where we’re going from here, and help us in healing.” She also called for the County and the State to adopt the Race, Ethnicity, Language and Disability (REALD) and Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) classifications as standard when collecting data to best observe community needs.
“If we don’t know who is here and their authentic experiences, we’ll never be able to fully help with their challenges,” she said. “We would never be able to fully recognize their strength and resiliency.
Before reading the proclamation, Commissioner Vega Pederson thanked those who shared, stating that it has been her honor to sponsor the Board’s annual Pride Month proclamation for four years. Vega Pederson also extended her appreciation to all of the LGBTQIA2+ employees of Multnomah County who work to serve and improve the lives of the community.
“Your presence and your whole self makes our organization and our community a stronger home for us all,” she said. “Pride itself is a symbol of resiliency. It was born in a riot against police brutality and state-sanctioned oppression. Through the decades the LGBTQ+ community has demonstrated its resiliency and strength by supporting one another even when no one else would.”
Chair Deborah Kafoury added her thanks to all the presenters and for all that they do to serve Multnomah County. She also recognized that the resilience of the LGBTQIA2S+ community developed out of necessity in the face of profound injustices and harm.
“The LGBTQIA2S+ community has always been one of resilience. But even during a celebratory season like this, I do think it’s important for all of us to remember that that resilience was forged in and born out of both systemic and interpersonal oppression, harm and pain,” she said.
“But the ways in which that resilience showed up — particularly in mutual networks of love, acceptance, support and joy — has saved countless lives over the years, and I know it was especially critical over this last year as members of this community faced numerous challenges. I am proud to be a part of today’s proclamation and the work the County is doing and is committed to continuing.”