Board of Commissioners proclaims June as Pride Month

July 14, 2023

The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners celebrated and recognized the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, and Two Spirit (LGBTQIA2S+) community — and the push toward justice — by proclaiming June Pride Month in Multnomah County.

Chair Jessica Vega Pederson and Commissioner Sharon Meieran co-sponsored this year’s proclamation. In addition to the proclamation, Commissioner Meieran sponsored the presentation of the Kathleen Saadat Award on Thursday.

The Board of Commissioners along with County employees celebrate Pride Month

The present-day Pride Month has its roots in the Stonewall Riots, a set of demonstrations led by Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Stormé DeLarverie, and other activists in response to a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in New York City, a popular gathering place for the queer community.

LGBTQIA2S+ activism remains as relevant as it was in 1969. The past year has seen a significant wave of anti-trans and anti-queer legislation and organizing. 

“Multnomah County recognizes that LGBTQIA2S+ communities are in present danger, and this year’s proclamation is a part of this recognition, our work to address and counteract these dangers, and this cultural moment,” said Chair Vega Pederson.

“In our community, LGBTQIA2S+ people are vulnerable because of the ways they have been unseen, unheard and unjustly oppressed inside of our communities and systems,” the chair continued. “They are also incredibly strong in the ways that so many members of this LGBTQIA2S+ community have been local, state and national leaders in fighting for rights, celebration and the reversal of injustice.”

June 2023 marks the 54th anniversary of the first march on Christopher Street, one year after the Stonewall Inn riots.

“It’s so important to elevate and celebrate the role of our LGBTQIA2S+ members of our community for celebrating the intersectional identities that they hold,” Commissioner Meieran said.

Members from Multnomah County’s PRISM and Queer and Trans People of Color (QTPOC) employee resource groups spoke to the Board about why their work to ensure equity and inclusion for LGBTQIA2S+ County employees is important. They also shared about how the two employee resource groups, which together serve over 300 staff members, can continue to help employees effect change in their workplace.

“These groups provide a safe space and support community for the County employees who identify as LGBTQIA2S+ and supportive allies,” Shelley Ashford, an active member of the QTPOC, Employees of Color and PRISM employee resource groups, and Commissioner Meieran’s constituent relations coordinator. Ashford served as the 2023 Events Chair for QTPOC.

“I found community at work with others that identify as I do. These communities celebrate the positives and commemorate the negatives of navigating life as a member of the queer and intersectional communities,” Ashford said.

“We want the future generations to live unapologetically — not just to stand up against these systems, but rewrite the systems in place,” said Jersey Rodriguez, a Department of Community Justice employee who testified about their experiences of marginalization, fear and harm in the County workplace. They challenged the Board to be more responsive and to demonstrate commitment to the County's values through action.

“Those growing up in our community deserve the freedom to be themselves with no fear of retaliation or violence, to be kids and grow into confident, valued members of our community, not because we told them who to be and how to act but because we gave them the space and guidance to grow into themselves.”

Commissioner Julia Brim-Edwards thanked Jersey for sharing their personal story, noting that while the County has taken steps to create an inclusive welcoming workplace, there is more work to be done.

“We still have employees who show up here to work and have negative workplace experiences because of who they are,” Brim-Edwards said. “It reminds us we need to continue to examine our practices and change them and be the employer that we aspire to be.”

James Dixon, a Multnomah County suicide prevention coordinator, spoke on how crucial it is for them to work in an environment where they can be theirself who identifies as Black, queer, neurodivergent and a veteran.

James Dixon speaks to the Board

“Our diversity should be celebrated and honored, and I'm hopeful we will continue our efforts in this regard,” said Dixon. “To strengthen our organization, it is imperative we break down problematic silos and foster connections within our departments and adopt trauma-informed approaches to intersectional equity.”

Dixon also spoke to the power of ERGs like PRISM. When Dixon was initially given their business cards, there was an issue with the pronouns not accurately reflecting their gender expression.

“I use he and they pronouns and I was told I had to choose one or the other. With the incredible support of my team, friends and colleagues, we identified this as a systemic issue that could be easily resolved,” said Dixon. “I’m pleased to say my business cards have been corrected.”

“I’m grateful to have colleagues who fully support me and I strongly believe that this support should be extended to others as well. It’s undeniable that systems even with good intentions can sometimes cause harm.”

Dixon shared that the support and partnership of Sam Silverman, an Office of Diversity and Equity senior equity policy analyst with a focus on LGBTQIA2S+ inclusion was critical. The two collaborated with other members of PRISM and QTPOC to design a survey about access to gender-affirming County identification.

“We wanted to ask our queer and trans staff about ways they self-identify so that we could update our internal language to be more inclusive and gender affirming,” said Silverman.

While the County gathers gender identity data, over 50% of data related to gender identity released in the most recent demographics report was missing due to information not being entered in Workday.

“We know there was a need to update our gender categories to be more current and inclusive with language that is accepted and confirmed by members of the community,” Silverman said.

Gender affirming County identification survey results

Silverman worked with PRISM and QTPOC to adjust the demographic questions in Workday, the County’s workforce system of record, updating the pronoun options available based on what staff said they are using to describe themselves. The gender identity options have also now been expanded to include options based almost entirely on what was provided by staff in the survey. These changes went into effect in June 2023.

“It has been such an immense honor to work alongside my community to move these things incrementally forward, but we know these are very small steps,” said Silverman. “During a time of violent attacks on trans rights across the country, it is critical that we use our power and privilege to build communities that are safer for our trans neighbors to thrive.”

Commissioner Susheela Jayapal had a message for members of PRISM and QTPOC: “I hope you will continue to engage in the process. I hope you will continue to come and talk to us and share your stories. We are all here because we believe change is possible.”

“This work is so important right now when everything we see around the country is discouraging and dispiriting and dangerous, but Multnomah County is still a refuge,” continued Jayapal.

Seth Johnstone, transgender justice program manager with Basic Rights Oregon, a statewide LGBTQ2SIA+ advocacy organization, spoke about the progress that the community has made with the passage of Oregon House Bill 2002.

Seth Johnstone, transgender justice program manager with Basic Rights Oregon

Johnstone explained that HB 2002 expands the number of gender-affirming healthcare services that must be covered by private and public insurers in Oregon.

“As states across the country take aim at gender-affirming care and rights to abortions and reproductive services, Oregon asserted itself protecting and expanding these rights,” said Johnstone.

“House Bill 2002 is something worth celebrating this Pride Month. Our community rarely gets a moment to pause and celebrate and say we have established a protection rather than experienced a threat.”

Chair Vega Pederson thanked Johnstone for presenting to the Board and all the work that went into passing HB 2002.

“It took commitment from a lot of organizations, a lot of advocates and elected leadership to make sure the bill moved forward despite all of the alignment against it and that's something that was a real achievement,” said Vega Pederson.

The Chair also commented on the importance of continuing to move LGBTQ2SIA+ rights forward in Oregon, while also remembering to look at the state’s history long-standing biases and its racist legacy.

“It takes vulnerability to show up and be your authentic self,” Commissioner Lori Stegmann said. “I see that you did that today and it's a tremendous privilege to hear your stories and for you to feel safe enough to share those with this board.”

Multnomah County’s proclamation of Pride Month came a later in the year than usual in support of Pride NW’s decision to move their annual festival to July in reverence for and deference to the many community celebrations in June, including the commemoration of Juneteenth and the Delta Park Powwow.

2023 Kathleen Saadat Award

The proclamation was followed by the presentation of the Kathleen Saadat Award, which recognizes a leading member of the local LGBTQIA2S+ community, to Sarina Saturn. The recognition was created in 2018 and is hosted by Multnomah County’s PRISM and QTPOC employee resource groups.

The award is named after Kathleen Saadat, who has for decades been a vital and long-standing leader in the local LGBTQIA2S+ community and movements. Her leadership has ranged from helping plan Portland’s first gay rights march in 1976 to supporting the development of Portland’s civil rights ordinance prohibiting discrimination against people in the LGBTQIA2S+ community.

Before Saadat announced this year’s awardee, she was introduced by Ashford, who detailed Saadat’s position in the local LGBTQIA2S+ community as a mentor, organizer, advocate and change maker. “Her work is rooted in intersectionality and racial education. Kathleen has been a constant and vocal advocate for people of color, women and economically disadvantaged.”

“We are important. We give. We help. We teach. We do things. We change things. We care,” Saadat said. “We have been doing it a long time. And sometimes people don't notice, but with the proclamation and your elevation to make us more visible, people get to see that we are participants in this democracy, participants in the life of the city, contributors to building it, to changing it and to bringing it joy.”

Kathleen Saadat (center) presents Sarina Saturn (left) with the 2023 Kathleen Saadat Award

Saadat then turned her attention to this year’s winner, Sarina Saturn, an experienced neuroscientist, educator, researcher and mentor. With a focus on intersectional advocacy, antiracism, feminism, and intergenerational trauma, Saturn’s devotion to health equity has inspired and validated many.

Saturn is “an advocate, policy shaper, commute worker, research scientist and a role model for everybody. She's bridging the gap between science and sociopsychology,” said Saadat as she presented Saturn with this award.

Saturn was nominated and chosen by the members of PRISM and QTPOC.

Saturn urged the Board to commit to taking the necessary steps to help both the well being, not just of the County workforce, but also the community the organization serves, in a transformative and inclusive way.

“We can celebrate our sacred QTPOC identity by paying attention to who is most vulnerable and harmed among us,” said Saturn. “We need to practice cultural humility and keep our egos in check. It is easier to be mean, to be judgmental, but if we keep our practice, we can be compassionate and trauma informed.”