Photo from noonmeasure9.com
The year was 1992; I was a Senior at Canby Union High School, in the outer burbs of Portland, Oregon. The desire to escape all that was high school and the town of Canby tore at me, like a gust of wind rips the leaves from the branches of a tree, on a cool fall day. As a queer teenage girl, I was fighting an internalized storm of grand proportion, while the LGBTQ community was at war with Ballot Measure 9, authored by Lon Mabon of the Oregon Citizen Alliance.
The friends I had in high school were a diverse group of people, and not one of them had come out openly as being queer. In fact, the word “queer” was a hateful slur used by homophobes to degrade teenage males who showed any feminine qualities and didn’t quite fit in. It often was followed by the words “faggot” or “pansy” or “pussy”, which was a male’s way of telling another male that they believed they were “weak” like a girl. The word queer also had the unfortunate luck of being ascribed to socially accepted elementary school playground games, such as “smear the queer”.
I told myself many times that fall of high school that this was not the time to “come out of the closet” to my devoutly Catholic parents. However, I certainly didn’t want to sit around and not declare my support for the No on 9 campaign. The question was, how to do so without giving up my queer identity to the wrath of haters coming out of the woodwork.
I was never a rule follower, so going against the wishes of my parents wasn’t the issue as much as fearing for my safety was. It only took a trip to Portland with my friends to find that little pin for my backpack that wasn’t entirely truthful, but was as close as I could get while keeping my sexual orientation hidden from others.
Ballot Measure 9 was a hateful measure that would have demonized the entire LGBTQ community in a government sanctioned way, blending religious belief and law. It would have made it legal to tell someone who identified as LGBTQ that they were perverse, unnatural, and wrong. They also grouped together anyone who was labeled a homosexual, pedophile, sadist, and masochist and said the government could not promote or sanction such behavior.
There is a huge difference between a person’s sexual orientation and being a pedophile, sadist, or masochist. When the word homosexual is included with identities like pedophiles, for example, it sends the message to people that if you are a homosexual, then you are also a pedophile or deemed as having the same social status as someone who is attracted to children. Reading the contents of Measure No. 9 all these years later still feels like someone just punched me in the gut. There was so much hatred pointed towards a group of people that were simply trying to honor their authentic self.
Although my parents still do not know that I am queer, many fights occurred between my father and I that permanently damaged my relationship with him (that was already destroyed for the most part). On one particular day, I remember having an argument with him, and him telling me that being anything but a heterosexual was an act against God and the Catholic religion. I don’t remember responding to him other than to tell him that he was narrow minded, that I hated him and then I left the room. It was difficult enough being a teenager, and the thought of coming out to anyone was terrifying for me.
I know that trauma occurred across the LGBTQ community, and had lasting effects on many people from that campaign. However, there were a lot of people who stood up to fight against the passing of a measure that would hurt so many people. To me this shows the power that people can have when they band together to condemn hatred and work towards a more just world. There were protests, Nirvana put on a concert at Portland Meadows to show solidarity and fight against ballot measure 9, and people began to see the LGBTQ community as people and not the threat that the Oregon Citizen Alliance and Lon Mabon wanted them to believe.
Top left: No on 9 protesters – collectiveeye.org
Middle left: No on 9 protesters – Basic Rights Oregon
Bottom Left: Rural Organizing Project flyer – ruralorganizingvoices.org
Top Right: Article about Nirvana concert – The Oregonian
Bottom Right: Nirvana at the 1993 MTV Music Awards with RuPaul – from left to right – Dave Grohl, RuPaul, Krist Novoselic and Curt Cobain – Hornet.com
I have always felt like the 90’s were a time of contradictions. Grunge music was growing in popularity, punk was still firmly planted in the culture of young adults, and Generation X people, myself included, were no longer willing to ascribe to the ideals our parents had shoved down our throats during our childhood.
It was a time of rebellion, which is probably why there was also so much push back by people with conservative religious values and ideals. In their eyes, our rebellious behavior was a threat to their way of life. This was also when our government began funding the police and prisons to a degree never seen before and when redlining began to force entire communities of color out of their neighborhoods.
I am grateful that Ballot Measure 9 did not pass. Yet, I am sad to say that it wasn’t by a landslide.
Table at right from Blue Book Oregon
Much has changed over the past 28 years; I have come out to my children, my friends, my therapist, my doctors, my professors and even some of my family members with overwhelmingly positive responses of love and kindness from all of them. I hid that part of myself from the world until I began to work with my therapist 6 years ago. It wasn’t until 2018, in the fall term at PSU in my Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality course that I openly shared with the entire classroom, on the first day of class, during introductions, that I am queer.
This was a big step for me and that evening, as I wrote in my journal, I thought a lot about why it had taken me so long to come out to the world. Yes, there is still discrimination that occurs against the LGBTQ community in Portland and across the US; yet, I know that it is much safer now than it ever has been to be open about my identity.
I now understand that my hesitancy stemmed from fear, a fear that led all the way back to the year 1992 when people were being vilified because they weren’t a heterosexual person. It took me 24 years to find the courage to push that fear away; one that was planted all those years ago by hate. Imagine how many other people are still living in fear from the trauma that campaign caused, a community wide inflicted trauma.