Thirty years ago, the Oregon Citizens Alliance asked voters to amend the Oregon constitution to declare homosexuality “abnormal and perverse.” It was the same year Pat Buchanan declared a “culture war” in his speech to the Republican National Convention. Just as today’s far-right seeks to build power and roll back civil rights by accelerating this so-called “culture war,” the 35 ballot measures in which Oregonians adjudicated the rights of their LGBTQ family and neighbors were a national proving ground for anti-democracy narratives and strategies.
The campaign to defeat Ballot Measure 9 mobilized thousands of Oregonians from all walks of life. Many came out of the closet for the first time, or repeatedly, as LGBT and as “straight but not narrow.” Hundreds of organizations took a stand. Many flowers bloomed: new groups, creative ideas, unexpected alliances. Noxious weeds grew too. Hate crimes soared. Mental health indicators plummeted. Not everyone survived.
No on 9 Remembered tells 30 stories from 30 years ago. Stories of people, places, actions and events – each offering a prism through which we can see both past and present. What can this historic battle for civil and human rights tell us about today’s fight for inclusive democracy?
“We have to become a movement that understands the long arc of history. Learning from earlier struggles teaches us discipline and helps prevent the sin of despair. In a time where some seek to erase or deny our nation’s history, remembering the stories that are part of the movement for inclusive democracy is a powerful act of resistance and redemption.”Eric K. Ward
The Kaleidoscope of Historical Memory
This is not an archival project. Nor is it a definitive account of the campaign to defeat Ballot Measure 9. It’s a project devoted to historical memory. To the stories we carry within us. Using the lens of today to try to understand the past. Learning from our history to inform how we respond to the present.
The stories we tell through No on 9 Remembered are only some of the shards that make up the larger kaleidoscope of our collective relationship to that time.
If you were around then, you have your own story. If you arrived on the scene later, your understanding of that historic fight may be influenced by some of its veterans, or by the award-winning movie Ballot Measure 9, or by the organizations or subsequent campaigns that were shaped by the strengths and weaknesses of the battle. Or maybe this is the very first you’re hearing about this epic moment in Oregon’s civil rights history and the LGBTQ movement?
We encourage you to tell your own story, to ask your own questions. We’d love to see civic leaders and community organizations across Oregon observe the 30th anniversary of the No on 9 campaign in their own way.
At Western States Center, we honor the bravery, sacrifices, and prescient analysis of that time by offering No on 9 Remembered: 30 stories for 30 years.
We begin remembering with Act I, in 1988 when racist skinheads beat Mulugeta Seraw to death on the streets of Portland, foreshadowing the spike in hate crimes that will accompany Measure 9. You’ll take a deeper dive into the language and meaning of Ballot Measure 9 and learn about one response supported by Western States Center, the Oregon Democracy Project.
Return to this site often as we count down to Election Day 2022. Each month we’ll serve up a fresh batch of three stories.
Read on. Share widely.
Be encouraged, be brave. Take action, take heart.
No on 9 Remembered is curated by Western States Center Executive Director Eric K. Ward and Senior Fellow Holly Pruett, with the majority of images provided by photographer Linda Kliewer.
When the No on 9 effort kicked off, Eric K. Ward was just starting in his role as Racial Justice Organizer for Clergy and Laity Concerned in Eugene (later renamed the Community Alliance of Lane County). With a background in fighting neo-Nazis in the punk music scene and now as coordinator of CALC’s multicultural kids camp and anti-bigotry program Communities Against Hate, Eric was steeped in dealing with organized bigotry and familiar with the Christian Right. “But now I was part of a statewide mobilization,” Eric remembers. “My role wasn’t very significant, but the impact on me remains to this day.” Writing on race and the Oregon Citizens Alliance, publishing local opinion pieces, supporting his CALC coworker Kelley Weigel as a leader in the campaign – “I was just one of many.”
During the No on 9 campaign, writer Holly Pruett was executive director of the Oregon Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence, one of the four community-based organizations supported through Western States Center as the Oregon Democracy Project. An out lesbian activist involved from the first campaign against the Oregon Citizens Alliance in 1988, Holly served as primary organizer and then deputy campaign manager for the campaign to defeat 1994’s Measure 13, which led to the formation of Basic Rights Oregon. Today, along with consulting and serving as Senior Fellow with Western States Center, Holly is a Life-Cycle Celebrant and community death educator.
“Remembering the No on 9 campaign, and all 35 of the OCA’s hateful measures, is a best-of-times-worst-of-times rollercoaster,” says Holly. “Courage is there, so is terror. Community like we’d never experienced, along with painful rifts. No on 9 showed us what we could achieve when we unite against hate – and how far we still had to go.”Holly J. Pruett
Photographer Linda Kliewer was one of the primary documentarians of the No on 9 campaign. As a full-time photo-journalist she traveled the state to capture images for the LGBTQ Newspaper Just Out. Linda was also the Regional Producer and Chief Cinematographer for the award-winning documentary Ballot Measure 9.
For remembering with us as we conceived this project, Western States Center thanks Rev. Cecil Prescod, Deb Ross, Jeff Malachowsky, Kathleen Saadat, Kelley Weigel, Renée LaChance, Sarah Stephens, Scot Nakagawa, Suzanne Pharr, Tarso Luís Ramos, Thalia Zepatos. Their insights have been essential to the development of this site and will appear as we share more stories; any errors or misinterpretations are the responsibility of the curators.
We’ll conduct additional interviews as we roll out our 30 stories over the course of the 30th anniversary year. Check back each month for new contact or subscribe to get a notification.
Website Design: Poonam Whabi