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social sciences

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Portland, Oregon  
 
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During the late 1940s, policewomen went undercover at a cabaret frequented by gay men and lesbians, the Music Hall, to entrap lesbians who socialized there, and gay men were routine targets of entrapment in bars and parks.

In spite of this harassment, Portland gays were irrepressible, and, in 1958, a lighthearted drag spoof of the city's annual Rose Festival at the gay-friendly Half Moon Tavern evolved into the Portland Imperial Court, which in 1961 became the first court system on the West Coast, holding twice yearly balls and coronations, and eventually becoming the Imperial Sovereign Rose Court.

Sponsor Message.

Along with reveling in gender-bending pageantry, the courts have always been service organizations that raise money for a variety of local charities.

In the 1960s, several campaigns against "degenerates" were launched in Portland. In 1964, the Portland City Council urged the Oregon Liquor Control Commission to revoke the liquor licenses of all Portland gay and lesbian bars. The request was rejected by the Commission.

Gay Liberation

As gay liberation spread across the United States in the late 1960s, Portland gay activists began to organize, using the alternative newspaper The Willamette Bridge and the community radio station KBOO to get the word out.

The Gay Men's Union at Portland State University, the Second Foundation non-profit organization, and the Lesbian Community Project were some of the groups born in the vigorous wave of gay activism in the early 1970s.

Portland's first gay pride event was a dance in the city's Pythian Ballroom on June 27, 1971.

The gay rights movement's first victory was the repeal of Oregon's sodomy law in 1971, which became effective on January 1, 1972. But this victory, real as it was, was due less to gay activism than it was to the state's adoption of a new model criminal code.

Portland's conservative civic tradition made legislative change difficult. However, in 1974 the city became the first in Oregon to promulgate a non-discrimination policy on the basis of sexual orientation for municipal employment.

Backlash and Response

The progressive Portland Town Council formed in 1975 to work for the passage of a state-wide gay rights bill. However, the conservative backlash of the late 1970s and 1980s made gay rights legislation difficult to pass.

In 1977, an Anita Bryant-inspired organization called Citizens to Protect Our Children attempted to recall Mayor Neil Goldschmidt after he declared Gay Pride Day in Portland. They successfully repealed a newly passed non-discrimination ordinance in Eugene, Oregon.

Mayor Goldschmidt survived the attempt to recall him, and when he became Governor of Oregon in 1987 he issued an executive order banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in state employment.

That non-discrimination order did not survive long. A group called Oregon Citizens Alliance, led by anti-gay activist Lon Mabon, succeeded in placing a referendum on the November 1987 state-wide ballot that repealed Goldschmidt's executive order.

Portland gay organizations fought back, but the momentum in the 1980s seemed to be with the conservatives, especially since the larger gay activist community was preoccupied with AIDS. The Portland branch of ACT UP outed Republican Senator Mark Hatfield, who supported several anti-gay measures, but the mainstream media paid little attention.

The Oregon Citizens Alliance proposed a number of anti-gay initiatives that qualified for the 1992 and 1994 ballots. However, thanks largely to Portland's liberal population and its activist queer community, most of OCA's offensive referenda and legislative efforts were defeated.

Still, OCA attracted a great deal of support in rural Oregon and has remained a potent force against state-wide legislative efforts for equality.

A state-wide non-discrimination law covering sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression did not become law until 2008, when the Oregon Equality Act took effect.

Efforts on Behalf of Marriage Equality

In 2004, the attorney for Portland's Multnomah County concluded that the state constitution mandated equal rights to marriage. On March 3, 2004, the chair of the county's Board of Commissioners, citing the county attorney's opinion, ordered the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

More than 2,000 gay and lesbian couples were married in Portland between March 3 and April 20, 2004, when a court ordered the issuance of marriage licenses to cease.

Later that year Oregonians passed an amendment to the state constitution defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman; and in 2005, the Oregon Supreme Court invalidated the same-sex marriages performed in 2004.

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