Reading the digital archive of Just Out – Oregon’s leading LGBTQ monthly for nearly 30 years – will bring you back to the day-in, day-out of the nearly two-year campaign to defeat Ballot Measure 9. So will talking to Just Out co-founder and publisher Renée LaChance.
The first thing Renée recalls about that time is how the external attack fueled a painful internal division:
“I remember how the community separated right off the bat,” she says, “grassroots activists in the street and then the more mainstream types who wanted to take the conventional political campaign route. They kept warring with each other. There was so much internal bickering. Each side thought theirs was the only correct way to do it. It was our biggest obstacle, the inability to realize that both sides of our divided community could do their thing.”
Renée tried to use Just Out to paint a bigger picture, to say, “We’re all on the same path here, or at least parallel paths. We do not have time for this infighting.”
Just Out had already spent eight years trying to build a foundation for a fully inclusive LGBTQ paper by presenting both sides of an issue. “We worked hard to let every voice be heard even if we didn’t agree with it,” Renée says. Now she looks back with amazement on the differing views they ran – “We printed that!” – and says, “I don’t see that being able to happen in today’s environment.”
In that pre-internet era, if people wanted to express their opinion through print media, “They had to write a letter, find an envelope and a stamp,” Renée reminds us. “They had to make an effort instead of getting mad and blasting people with no thought of the consequences.”
“Listen more and talk less, as they say in Hamilton. It’s very brave to sit and listen to someone who disagrees with you and not react.”Renée LaChance
Providing a forum for a range of views and strategies “allowed people to debate and to learn about each other,” Renée says. “That prepared us for the fight against the OCA; without that foundation, I’m not sure we could have survived Ballot Measure 9.”
Just Out’s Internal Community Mission
Renée saw Just Out’s mission during the long No on 9 campaign as two-fold: trying to keep the community informed and trying to keep the community together.
Each month’s paper was stuffed with reporting, announcements, and opinions covering the range of campaign activism and opportunities.
“We tried to provide a way to get the word out so people would have the best resources to deal with the attack,” says Renée. One example: How do you write a letter to your parents asking them not to vote for Measure 9?
Along with providing tools and an open forum, a lot of the editorial team’s time was spent sorting through misinformation. “It was hard to keep ahead of the lies,” Renée remembers. “People would latch onto rumors, thinking they were true and reacting before doing the research. We did the fact-checking and tried to tell the truth the best we could, to slow people down to remember that – even if we disagreed on tactics – we were all on the same path.”
Renée took a lot of flak for her attempts to be objective in the “grassroots versus mainstream” contest over how to defeat Measure 9. “I went to the Edward R. Murrow school of journalism,” she says, “where you present the information and let people make their own decisions. I refused to get up on the stage and take a side about how the ballot measure should be fought.”
The internal community debates were felt so passionately, Renée says, “Some of my closest friends felt like I was betraying them – like I was actually pro-Measure 9.”
The Struggle to Stay Alive
During the time when print journalism was a primary source of news and community-building, each copy of Just Out was read by an average of three or four other people. Did you see Just Out? People would ask each other. It got passed around.
With few LGBTQ businesses outside of the bars – and the bars spending their advertising dollars on more narrowly targeted ‘’bar rags” – the majority of Just Out’s advertisers were community allies. Both queer and straight readers of the paper were known to switch their buying loyalties to patronize the businesses that supported Just Out.
Building that base of support for an inclusive, free community paper took a lot of pounding the pavement and working the Rolodex. “The economics of being a small press meant we were constantly struggling to stay alive,” says Renée. Then the Oregon Citizens Alliance (OCA) filed the petition that became Measure 9. “We were in the fight from the signature-gathering phase. The mainstream media didn’t start covering it until it became real. But we knew, if it could possibly happen, we better do something.”
“Having the energy and bandwidth to do the work when we were all depressed and worried – it was really hard to come in everyday and write. We tried to play as well as work; we were great support for each other as a staff. But we were just so stuck in it.”Renée LaChance
The OCA’s attack on the community “was what we ate and breathed for those years,” says Renée. “It was never not in the forefront of our minds, that we were fighting this battle. And it really was a war – there was so much violence and hate. The allies weren’t there yet at the start. It was just us. We hadn’t made those connections yet with the churches and other community and business groups; we had just started to. Straight but not narrow – that was a big deal.”
Attacks on the paper were personally threatening. “People who knew us knew who we were,” Renée says. “There were death threats left on our answering machine, on our door. Vandals broke into the typesetters in the office beneath us. It was a scary time. We had the police on speed dial, a private number for someone who would help us. I made friends with police officers, which I’d never done.” (Renée credits Chief Tom Potter, whose out lesbian daughter was also part of the force at that time – a story we’ll tell in June.)
Priscilla Martin, who Renée describes as “our Anita Bryant,” was known to regularly steal and throw away full stacks of Just Out. Even when she was caught, she couldn’t be prosecuted – technically, you can’t “steal” a free paper. Instead, Just Out exposed her by printing their version of a “Wanted” poster. Martin responded by suing the paper for libel. Renée settled by making a statement in the newspaper to satisfy the legal requirement.
Learning to Be Allies
While the community infighting and the overall violence and threats of that time are hard memories, Renée credits the fight against Measure 9 with building broader support for the LGBTQ movement.
“The various campaigns did such great work in liaisoning with other groups,” she says, “not just We need your support, but making a personal connection with someone in that group. You know me, I know you, this is happening in my community and we need you – and then working it. [Read Kathleen Saadat’s example of this process in African Americans Voting No on 9.]
“Offering them education, giving a workshop, facilitating dialogue. Not just asking for their endorsement but taking the time to find out, What are your concerns, what’s the barrier to our being in community together? Then giving them what they need to get past that barrier. Do we do that anymore?” Renée asks.
“Some communities were obviously going to jump on bandwagon, like progressive Jewish congregations,” she recalls. “Others took longer. Some may not have approved of being gay but came to agree that the OCA’s language shouldn’t be in the state constitution. The range of groups working against Measure 9 provided an opportunity for people to find their place to be. If you weren’t comfortable in one group, you could find another.”
Even though Just Out was printed primarily in black ink on newsprint, the range of voices addressing Measure 9 in its pages formed the full spectrum of the rainbow.
“Over time seeing all these different groups come out to support the LGBTQ community was very validating,” Renée says. “You could see the evolution in each year’s Pride. At first it was just us and PFLAG and a few churches; then over time, group after group joined us.” It was an antidote to the hateful messaging of the OCA and the Christian Right. “It was like, We’re okay. We deserve love too.”
For Renée, this became a well-worn two-way street. “Because I learned first-hand how important it is to have community allies, I’ve always supported other communities, gone to their events, supported their initiatives. It’s been a very mind-opening experience. I’ve felt comfortable there as a butch lesbian, welcomed. If I had to, I would feel comfortable going to those leaders and organizers to say, I’ve supported your community, can you join us in this fight?”
The commitment to internal and external community dialogue that infused Just Out is harder to come by these days, Renée observes. “It’s frightening how little listening there is these days, how little dialogue there is that doesn’t blow up into a battle. I just want more communication – intergenerational communication, communication between communities and within our LGBTQ community.”
For Renée that extends across the ideological divide. “I have a rightwing friend. Mostly we’re able to remember our history together and accept that we can’t agree. Mostly we try to remember that we all want to get to the same place – for everyone to be safe and sound and secure. We just might not agree on the way to get there.
“These days we’re all getting brainwashed by the media to feel like we want to kill each other,” Reneé says. “What do we do about it? We have to have people with the energy to sit through some crap and not take it personally. How do you teach people that?”
Watch Renée LaChance’s interview with Pride Table Talks, where she discusses the origins of Just Out and some of the 1980s-era community dynamics that preceded the No on 9 campaign, including the fight to get the word “lesbian” into Gay Pride, the infamous Aunt Jemima incident, the TKO (Technical Knock Out) dialogue series meant to bridge these differences, and the Alpenrose boycott that seems long ago indeed now that the dairy’s home delivery marketing features LGBTQ families.
As they say on The Moth Radio Hour, “Moth stories are true as remembered and affirmed by the storyteller.” Read more about the benefits and challenges of historical memory.