Board of Commissioners proclaims June as Pride Month, presents Kathleen Saadat Award to local educator and advocate Erin Waters

July 1, 2022

The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners celebrated and recognized of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, and Two Spririt (LGBTQIA2S+) community and the push towards justice by proclaiming June Pride Month in Multnomah County. Commissioners Sharon Meieran and Susheela Jayapal co-sponsored this year’s proclamation. Along with the proclamation, Commissioner Jayapal sponsored the presentation of the Kathleen Saadat Award.

On June 28, 1969, Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Stormé DeLarverie, and other activists fought back against state-sanctioned violence after police raided the Stonewall Inn in New York City, a popular stop for the queer community.

“We commemorate the Stonewall riots as a critical movement for social justice,” Jayapal said. 

But Jayapal also reminded attendees that there is a deeper story. Johnson, Rivera and DeLarverie’s activism wasn’t just for gay rights. They fought for economic justice, racial equality, and against all other oppressions because they understood they were also queer and trans issues.

June 2022 also marks the 53rd anniversary of the first gay pride march in New York, which took place in 1970, a year after the Stonewall upraising.

“Today, the theme is unapologetic,” said Commissioner Jayapal, “and this proclamation is a clear reminder that our work needs to liberate all people.” 

The proclamation was followed by the presentation of the Kathleen Saadat Award, which recognizes a leading member of the local LGBTQIA2S+ community, to Erin Waters. The recognition was created in 2018 and is hosted by Multnomah County’s PRISM and Queer and Trans People of Color (QTPOC) Employee Resource Groups. 

(Far right) Kathleen Saadat embraces Erin Waters (second to right) after presenting the award during the board meeting.

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

Waters is an educator and advocate for marginalized communities, with a particular focus on the Black Queer community. She was nominated and chosen by the members of the two Employee Resource Groups. 

“We need people who can bring us together, who can see a vision, and how to implement that vision,” said Saadat.

Waters’ vocation began in healthcare with community clinics, working with and among people advocating for a change.

“We don’t do this for the awards, we do it because the work needs to get done,” Waters said to the board. 

The presentation also included speakers who work within the Multnomah County Health Department. David Cuevas described the important work the Multnomah County Public Health STI, STD prevention and Department of Community Services provide to the LGBTQIA2S+ community.

Cuevas told the story of being a new resident in Multnomah County, who visited a clinic downtown to receive services. There, Cuevas was welcomed by staff, and felt at ease when they met with someone who spoke their native language. 

“Who would have thought that years later I was going to lead one of their teams?” said Cuevas. Cuevas is the disease intervention specialist program supervisor for the Multnomah County Health Department. 

“We know that getting an STI diagnosis can feel very isolating,” said Cuevas, “just as being a member of sexual or gender minority or a racial minority can be isolating as well.” 

The Disease Intervention Specialist Program works to remove any barriers and get people tested and treated for STIs. The program has culturally and linguistically sensitive strategies, HIV care, provides harm reduction and promotes community level risk reduction services for Black, Indigenous, People of Color communities to diminish those disparities. 

“My team wants the LGBTQIA2S+ community to know that they are loved and cherished. We honor their resilience and we will always have their back,” said Cuevas. 

Sharon Meieran thanked Cuevas for sharing the personal story of being new to the county, receiving services and creating a team that Cuevas now calls family.

“Thank you for the services you and your family provide to the community,” said Commissioner Meieran. 

Chelsea Varnum, director of the LGBTQIA2S+ Services program at New Avenues for Youth, shared the purpose of the program and gave insight on what working with the program is like. 

The LGTBQIA2S+ Services offer culturally specific support for youth identifying as LGBTQIA2S+ in Multnomah and Clackamas County. The primary purpose of the program is to provide a welcoming space to youth and allow them to connect with each other, get the resources they are looking for, and connect with the community. 

“It’s beautiful, complicated work that challenges everyone who engages in it,” said Varnum. 

Nancy Haque, executive director of Basic Rights Oregon, a statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization, spoke about the progress that the LGBTQIA2S+ community has made and the fight that is left moving forward. 

Haque acknowledged the history of Oregon with the LGBTQIA2S+ community, beginning by recognizing that, at one point, Oregon was the state with the most anti-LGBTQ ballot measures in the country.

But today, Oregon has more rights for LGBTQIA2S+ people than most of the country. 

“We have shown how you can fight back and protect communities who need it the most,” said Haque. 

Haque said legal protection should be the bare minimum for the community, encouraging people to continue to take action and achieve lived equality. 

“This board is 100% committed to being better and doing better. We know the way we do that is working alongside you, supporting you and listening,” said Chair Deborah Kafoury