LGBTQ Oregon: Current Status and History of Struggle

gay_kissing_pdaOregon has come a long way in the last couple of decades, now supporting an efflorescent LGBTQ community. One Gallup poll from March last year reported Portland as having the second largest LGBT population in the country, with 5.4% of citizens identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. Overall, 4.9% of Oregon’s adult population identifies as LGBTQ and 16% of same-sex couples are raising children, as reported by the Movement Advancement Project (MAP).

Oregon is one of 14 states MAP found to have a high overall policy tally, marking an abundance of laws and policies protecting LGBTQ equal rights. Generally, our state’s gender and sexuality policies are fit and fair; however, a grim history of oppression is cast over a past century of LGBTQ Oregonians fighting for rights.

Discriminatory laws in Oregon held steady since 1853, when Oregon enacted a zero tolerance policy over acts of sodomy. By 1913, “offenders” faced up to 15 years in prison and a sterilization law condemned “sexual perverts” and “moral degenerates.” This sparked our nation’s first gay rights referendum, with Oregon voters repealing the law by a 56% to 44% margin. However, sterilization reached a broader criminology in 1932, when the law was amended to withhold any definition of said “perverts” and reproductive potential was eliminated as grounds for exemption. Around the same time, Portland police officers were issuing psychological tests assessing arrestees’ degrees of masculinity or femininity.

It wasn’t until around 1950 that the scientific community and social culture began embracing and empathizing with the LGBTQ community. Portland police officer Earl Biggs and the famed Dr. Alfred Kinsey joined forces after Biggs published Sex, Science and Sin: A Study of Normal and Abnormal Sex Activity of Our Time in Relation to Science, the Law, and Religion, in which Biggs called for decriminalization of consensual homosexual involvement.

Rallies for gay rights finally reached the city streets in the ‘70s during Portland’s first outdoor pride celebration in 1975. Resistance persisted, however, as seen by one murderous hate crime reaching Salem streets and the extremist Oregon Citizens Alliance funding a constitutional ballot measure aimed at criminalizing LGBT Oregonians, both 20 years ago. One huge victory, albeit long overdue, occurred last summer, when same-sex marriage was finally legalized.

Presently, our local community is packed with LGBTQ-friendly resources and support networks, including the Linn-Benton Gender & Sexuality Alliance, the social group Out-N-About for LGBTQ identifying and questioning youth, the ongoing Rainbow in the Clouds celebration every first Friday at Cloud & Kelly’s, and PRIDE Corvallis, just to name a handful.

For a full list of LGBTQ-friendly organizations, visit

By Stevie Beisswanger