The Massachusetts Supreme Court decision to allow gay marriages and the political climate around gay and lesbian issues in Oregon were the topics considered at the “Politicizing Queer Issues” panel discussion held in the Smith Memorial Student Union browsing lounge Tuesday evening.
The panel consisted of representatives from Oregon Statewide Students Equal Rights Alliance (OSSERA), Lesbian Community Project, Love Makes a Family, Queers and Allies; and Sam Adams, an openly gay candidate for Portland City Council.
The biggest issue of the night was the Massachusetts court decision, which panel members called “incredible.” They discussed the possibility of other states following Massachusetts’ lead.
Roger Wert, a member of Queers and Allies, a student-run support and social group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students, argued that the government should not offer marriages at all, but instead civil unions to both gay and straight couples, because “the government should not have its fingers in a religious institution.”
Adams expressed a similar view. “Everyone should have the right to civil marriages, and the government shouldn’t have a role in religious marriages,” he said.
Adams also voiced concern that there may be political “backlash” to the Massachusetts decision, and conservative groups may push for “defense of marriage” laws.
While there may be some backlash, Adams also seemed to believe that people will be accepting of the court’s decision, citing the lack opposition to similar rulings in other places.
“The sky didn’t fall on Canada after they made the decision,” he said.
The panel also discussed the gay and lesbian issues in Oregon politics.
Adams pointed out that while Portland has protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, much of the rest of the state does not.
“You could be fired just for looking gay, or you could be kicked out of your house for looking straight,” Adams said.
Wert expressed concerns that in some rural areas, such as Grant’s Pass, much of the opposition to queer movements may be due to having a lack of background in queer issues.
“Politics are local, and we really need to embrace that as far as getting something through the state Legislature,” Adams added.
The panel members also gave brief explanations of their organizations’ goals and programs.
Erin Devany and Mary Fletcher of OSSERA explained their group’s goal to start a lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender and questioning resource center on campus, where students could find a safe place and support.
Amber Hicks discussed Love Makes a Family’s support services for families headed by gay or lesbian parents, and also the group’s workshops that focus on gay and lesbian issues for middle school students to help prevent bullying in schools.
Jamie Bolyard, director of the Lesbian Community Project, explained how her organization serves as a resource to lesbian women, offering support groups, Spanish and sign language classes, and supporting other groups’ political activities.