Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people have always been part of Oregon communities, finding untold ways over the years to live, love, worship, and work with dignity.
The Struggle for LGBTQ Rights in Oregon: 1970 – 2015
Starting in 1970, the struggle in Oregon to end criminalization and legalized discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity became visible as a movement. Forged through early local and state legislative organizing, then tested by 35 anti-gay ballot measures from 1978 to 2004, the accomplishments of this movement were recognized in 2015 when Oregon was named the second-most LGBTQ-friendly state in the nation. Scroll through the timeline of 45 years of milestones, below, and visit our Resources page for source links and to learn more.
The Oregon LGBTQ community’s story is part of a national LGBTQ movement intersecting with all of the other great 19th & 20th century movements for civil rights. LGBTQ people were part of the civil rights movements for Black, Indigenous, and people of color; the labor, immigrant rights, disability rights, and feminist movements; and other social justice struggles – both as members of those communities and as allies. Each of those communities’ struggles contributed to the movement for LGBTQ rights. Our timeline of Benchmarks in Oregon’s Civil Rights History presents this wider view. Visit our Resources page for other historical memory projects.
- Purple: General LGBTQ History
- Pink: The Fight Against the Oregon Citizens Alliance (OCA)
|The Eugene Gay People’s Alliance is established, along with the Portland Gay Liberation Front. Successor organizations include Portland Town Council and Right to Privacy PAC (founded 1982), later renamed Right to Pride, which merges with newly-founded Basic Rights Oregon in 1996.
|Gladys McCoy wins a seat on the Portland School Board, the first African American to win elected office in Oregon. As a delegate to the 1972 National Democratic Convention she champions a gay equality plank. In 1973 her husband Bill McCoy, the first African American elected to the state legislature, sponsors the state’s first gay rights legislation. About taking heat for supporting gay equality, Gladys tells an archivist “she could not seek equal rights for herself as an African American if she did not support equality for gays.”
|Oregon legislature decriminalizes non-commercial homosexual activity in private among consenting adults, only the third state to do so. (Read more on the law and law enforcement in the 1970s.)
|The Second Foundation of Oregon, a gay rights group created to press for legal protections against discrimination, asks the City of Portland to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, only to discover that Portland, unlike many other cities, had no civil rights ordinance of any type.
|Ahead of the unsuccessful attempt to include a gay civil rights plank in the national Democratic Party platform, the Oregon Democratic Party, meeting in Klamath Falls, adopts without opposition language opposing discrimination in employment and housing based on sexual orientation and marital status, believed to be the first time a state’s major party platform supports gay equality.
|A U.S. District Court judge finds in favor of Peggy Burton, a Turner science teacher fired for immorality after coming out as a lesbian; the court awards her back pay and damages but does not order her reinstatement.
|The Oregon House of Representatives considers HB 2930, the first bill to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation; it fails to pass with 29 votes in favor, 28 opposed, and three members excused or absent. Supporters include the only African American and Asian American legislators; eight of the nine women in the House; six Republicans and 23 Democrats. Similar legislation is introduced every session until passage of SB 2 in 2007, which outlaws discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
|The Oregon Gay Political Caucus is created as an umbrella for gay civil rights groups around the state to advance state-level non-discrimination legislation.
|Portland’s Metropolitan Human Relations Commission appoints its first openly gay member after two years of lobbying, heralded by a headline from The Oregonian, “Gay libbers get place on board.” Late that year the Portland City Council passes the state’s first ban on anti-gay discrimination in employment. In favor in the three-to-two vote are sponsor Connie McCready, a former Republican state legislator; Charles Jordan, the first African American member of the City Council; and Mayor Neil Goldschmidt; opposed are feminist leader Mildred Schwab and Frank Ivancie who in 1980 defeats McCready to become Mayor.
|Portland holds its first Gay Rights March, seven years after the uprising at New York’s Stonewall Inn propels the national LGBTQ liberation movement.
|The City of Eugene adds sexual orientation to its ordinance banning discrimination following years of organizing by the local gay community; it is overturned by voters the following year.
|In the first popular vote on gay rights in Oregon, Measure 51, Eugene voters repeal gay rights protection by a 29% margin. The Eugene City Council reinstates these protections 24 years later, in 2002.
|Jesse Jackson wins 30% of the vote in the Oregon Democratic Presidential Primary, the largest percentage for a person of color ever in a northern state. Margaret Carter is elected the first African American woman to serve in the state legislature. Both will become leaders in opposing Ballot Measure 9.
|Multnomah County bans discrimination in county hiring on the basis of sexual orientation, spearheaded by newly-elected Commissioner Gretchen Kafoury who had lobbied for statewide protection since 1973. Described by The Oregonian as “a lightning rod of activism,’’ Kafoury had marched on the office of the South African consul in Portland to protest apartheid three months earlier.
|The Lesbian Community Project (LCP) is founded in Portland and serves through 2008 as a home for social connection, political education on racism and anti-Semitism, and community activism and organizing in response to anti-gay ballot measures and other threats to civil rights.
|Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, Oregon’s farmworkers union known as PCUN, is founded and will become a close ally of the gay and lesbian movement.
|The Oregon Citizens Alliance (OCA) forms in conjunction with conservative evangelical activist Joe Lutz’s unsuccessful challenge to pro-choice U.S. Senator Bob Packwood in the Republican primary (Lutz wins 42% of the primary vote against the three-term incumbent). When Lutz resigns as OCA leader following a personal scandal, he’s replaced by Lon Mabon. Their causes in the late 1980s – opposing statewide pre-kindergarten, parental-leave legislation, and divestiture from apartheid South Africa – fail to generate traction. Opposing gay rights will prove to be their claim to fame.
|Governor Neil Goldschmidt issues an executive order banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in the state executive department; a December poll finds 58% of Oregonians approve of the executive order.
|In its first statewide ballot measure, the Oregon Citizens Alliance (OCA) gathers 118,000 signatures (63,578 are required) to ask voters to rescind the ban on discrimination in executive department employment. Voters approve Ballot Measure 8 by 53%, repealing the Governor’s anti-discrimination executive order, despite polling predicting the measure’s defeat and a majority of Oregonians voting for Michael Dukakis over George H.W. Bush in the presidential election, the first time a Democrat carries the state since 1964. Measure 8 is overturned by a court ruling in Merrick v. Board of Higher Education, decided on Nov. 12, 1992, just days after voters reject the OCA’s Ballot Measure 9.
|The Oregon legislature adopts the Hate Crimes Reporting Act which includes crimes based on sexual orientation prejudice. That year Minnesota and Nevada also include sexual orientation in their hate crime statutes; previously only California (1984), Connecticut (1987), and Wisconsin (1988) had done so. Oregon adds gender identity in 2019. In 2021, 47 states and the District of Columbia have hate crimes statutes; 34 of these cover sexual orientation and 22 include gender identity.
|When Oregon Attorney General Dave Frohnmayer, a pro-choice Republican, rejects OCA policy proposals in his run for Governor, the OCA runs its vice-chairman Al Mobley as an Independent candidate. Mobley takes 13% of the vote, handing victory to Democrat Barbara Roberts, who wins 46% of the vote to Frohnmayer’s 40%. Roberts had made history as Secretary of State in 1985 by inviting the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus to sing at the state Capitol and went on to be a fierce advocate for the LGBTQ community nationally.
|The Oregon Citizens Alliance inadvertently helps 52% of Oregon voters to defeat Oregon Right to Life’s Measure 10, which would require parental notification for minors seeking an abortion, by sponsoring the far more extreme Measure 8, a constitutional amendment to prohibit abortion except to prevent death of the pregnant woman and in reported cases of rape or incest. Measure 8 is defeated by 68% of the vote following a robust and unified No on 8 & 10 campaign by Oregon’s pro-choice coalition.
|David Duke, former grand wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, runs for Governor of Louisiana, winning 55 percent of the white vote (though losing the election) with his slogan “Equal Rights for All, Special Privileges for None,” echoed by the OCA’s “No Special Rights” rallying cry for Measure 9.
|The City of Portland bans sexual orientation discrimination by all employers doing business in the city, as well as in housing and public accommodations. Corvallis does the same in 1992; Ashland in 1993. With the eventual passage of statewide protection in 2007, municipal non-discrimination ordinances are no longer needed in Oregon. By early 2021, at least 330 municipalities across the U.S. have provided legal protection for their LGBTQ residents.
|Multnomah County is the first public employer in Oregon to extend health benefits to domestic partners of its employees, both same- and opposite-gender. The 1993 lawsuit Tanner v. OHSU results in a comparable statewide victory when the Oregon Court of Appeals rules in 1998 that the Oregon Bill of Rights requires public employers to extend the same benefits to domestic same-sex partners of employees as are extended to spouses of employees.
|During the Primary Election in May, the Oregon Citizens Alliance succeeds in passing an anti-gay measure in Springfield (read the New York Times coverage, A Blue-Collar Town Is a Gay-Rights Battleground) and fails to do the same in Corvallis. Both efforts are proving grounds for the larger statewide fight over the OCA’s notorious Ballot Measure 9. Dubbed the “Abnormal Behaviors Act,” Measure 9 seeks to amend the Oregon Constitution to declare homosexuality abnormal and perverse, on par with pedophilia. In the General Election as Bill Clinton defeats incumbent President George H.W. Bush, 85% of Oregon voters turn out, 56% of them rejecting Measure 9. On Election Night, OCA leader Lon Mabon announces they will return with a revised version of Measure 9 in 1994 and in the meantime will file local anti-gay measures.
|Over a two-year period, the Oregon Citizens Alliance brings local anti-gay measures to voters in 29 cities and counties, targeting the 33 towns and counties where they won a majority in the statewide 1992 vote. Despite failing to collect enough signatures to qualify for the ballot in nearly 20 targeted communities, they succeed in passing over two dozen measures; voters defeat the OCA only in Corvallis (May, 1992) and Gresham (May, 1994). Working alongside the Rural Organizing Project (founded during the 1992 No on 9 campaign), Support Our Communities Political Action Committee (SOC PAC) forms to fight these measures while laying the foundation for another statewide fight against the OCA in 1994. The Oregon Legislature passes HB 3500 to invalidate local anti-gay measures. Sponsored by Rep. Gail Shibley, the first openly LGBTQ person elected to the Oregon legislature, the law is upheld by the Oregon Court of Appeals in 1995.
|The Oregon ACLU, active throughout Oregon’s quest for LGBTQ+ rights, helps win Morrison v. City of Gresham Fire Department. After firefighter Morrison is witnessed attending a No on 9 march, he is harassed and shunned by colleagues. As a result of the lawsuit, the fire department restores Morrison to his duties, transfers him to another fire station, reprimands the firefighter who led the attacks, and adopts a new discrimination and harassment policy.
|Dubbed “Son of 9,” the OCA’s Measure 13 “Amends Constitution: Governments Cannot Approve, Create Classifications Based on, Homosexuality”. While changing the name from Measure 9’s “Abnormal Behaviors Act” to “The Minority Status and Child Protection Act,” the OCA admits the effect would be virtually identical. It’s defeated with 51.5% of the vote, without the benefit of presidential voter turn-out, while Newt Gingrich’s “Contract on America” wins Republican control of Congress (ending 40 years of Democratic control of the House), along with gaining 12 Republican governorships and regaining Republican control in 20 state legislatures. The leaders of Support Our Communities Political Action Committee (SOC PAC), formed to fight the local OCA measures, aim to run the No on 13 fight as “a movement-building campaign” with dual goals – “to win the election and improve the position of the gay and lesbian and larger civil and human rights movements” – which lays the foundation for the creation of Basic Rights Oregon.
|U.S. Senator Bob Packwood is forced to resign over sexual misconduct; the seat, long held by a Republican, goes to Democrat Ron Wyden after Republican Gordon Smith fails to repudiate the OCA’s endorsement. When Smith makes another run for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Mark Hatfield’s retirement, he distances himself from the OCA. Lon Mabon runs against Smith, winning only eight percent of the primary vote; his candidacy helps to position Smith as a centrist, contributing to his victory over his Democratic opponent.
|Benton County (home to Corvallis) becomes the first to include gender identity and expression in a comprehensive non-discrimination ordinance. In 2000 Portland and Multnomah County both expand their discrimination bans to include gender identity, followed by Eugene and Salem (2002), Lake Oswego (2003), Bend and Beaverton (2004), Lincoln City (2005), Hillsboro (2006), extending non-discrimination protections to all LGBTQ people.
|Voters reject by 53% the OCA’s final anti-gay statewide initiative, a second Ballot Measure 9, the so-called Student Protection Act to “prohibit public school instruction encouraging, promoting, sanctioning homosexual, bisexual behaviors.”
|OCA leader Lon Mabon is jailed for 42 days for refusing to pay a jury-ordered $30,000 legal judgement against him. Mabon creates a “corporation sole” church of one, naming himself “First Presiding Patriarch (Overseer).” It appears to be a way to remove any assets from the reach of photographer Catherine Stauffer who won the judgement against the OCA in a 1991 lawsuit after being violently expelled from a meeting. Stauffer persists over 15 years in her legal attempts to collect from Lon and Bonnie Mabon.
|Multnomah County begins issuing marriage licenses to same-gender couples. Opponents gather signatures to put Ballot Measure 36 on the statewide ballot. Voters approve this state constitutional ban on same-gender marriage by 57 percent. The State of Oregon returns over 3,000 marriage licenses, now marked “null and void,” to same-sex couples legally wed in Multnomah County. Measure 36 is overturned ten years later in a court ruling by U.S. District Judge Michael McShane.
|The Oregon Legislature passes SB 2, which outlaws discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, and other categories based on sexual orientation and gender identity, after considering such legislation every session since 1973. Fourteen years later, in late 2021, only 22 states plus the District of Columbia provide explicit legal protection on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity; another 9 states interpret their sex discrimination prohibitions to provide this protection; one has yet to add gender identity to its sexual orientation discrimination law; and 18 states and 5 territories have no legal prohibitions against such discrimination.
|The Oregon Legislature creates domestic partnership status for same-gender couples, providing most but not all of the rights and protections of marriage. Multnomah County had created the first non-discriminatory domestic partnership registration system in 2000, followed by Eugene in 2002.
|Basic Rights Oregon creates its Racial Justice Program and later documents its process in becoming an anti-racist organization, supported by Western States Center’s Dismantling Racism Project, in Standing Together: An Anti-Racist Organizational Development Toolkit for LGBT Equality Groups and Activists (2010) and Coming Out for Racial Justice (2015).
|After attempting to revive the organization in 2007, the OCA fails to qualify anti-gay measures for the 2008 ballot. OCA spokesman Scott Lively, the author of The Pink Swastika: Homosexuality in the Nazi Party (1995), who is alleged to have paid men for sex while in Oregon, leaves the state to promote anti-gay legislation in Latvia, Russia, and Uganda and run for Governor of Massachusetts (in 2014 and 2018); his Abiding Truth Ministries based in California is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Lon Mabon recedes from view politically but in 2021 is seen in the Portland area driving a delivery van for his family-run salsa company.
|The City of Springfield amends its charter to add sexual orientation to its non-discrimination classes. While largely symbolic given the statewide protections in place since 2007, this is significant for the city which drew national attention in May, 1992 when it was the first in America to add anti-gay language to its code, through the OCA’s successful local measure. (Read the New York Times A Blue-Collar Town Is a Gay-Rights Battleground.)
|The State of Oregon prohibits health care providers from discriminating based on actual or perceived gender identity and expression.
|On May 19, U.S. District Judge Michael McShane rules that Oregon’s laws banning same-gender marriage “violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.” Same-gender weddings start the same day. Thirteen months later, on June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court overturns all state bans on same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges.
|After enduring 35 anti-gay ballot measures – far more than any other locale – Oregon is rated the second-most LGBTQ-friendly state by the Movement Advancement Project.