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Rediscovering Family: The Ann and Bill Shepherd family

By George T. Nicola
Date: January 26, 2018.

 

Susie ShepherdWhen Susie Shepherd first came out in 1970 as gay to her parents, Ann and Bill Shepherd, it created quite a stir. But eventually, after about a year of soul-searching and coming to understand that they did not cause Susie’s homosexuality, they began to support Susie in a big way. In the years following Susie’s coming out, the couple learned that they had two additional lesbian daughters. After Bill and Ann died—Bill in 1995 and Ann in 2003--one of those daughters transitioned to male.

Bill and Ann ShepherdBill and Ann became their own breed of activist. In the mid-1970s, Ann was appointed to Governor Robert Straub’s Task Force on Sexual Preference, which was charged with investigating whether anti-gay discrimination existed on a state-wide basis, and reporting their findings to the 1977 session of the Oregon Legislature Assembly. The Task Force’s meetings around the state were consistently attended by religious fanatics who opposed the work they were doing. Their findings were that discrimination did exist at all levels—housing, employment and public accommodations.

It was partly from the recommendations of the Task Force that Bill and Ann invited Rita and Charles Knapp, parents of lesbian activist Kristan Knapp, to  join them in launching a support group originally called POG--Parents Of Gays. It eventually joined the national PFLAG organization and took the name PFLAG Portland, Oregon, for Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

Ann spent a lot of time helping kids who were not accepted by their parents. In one case, a young man came to her after he heard his parents planning to get him a lobotomy because they thought that would “cure” him of his homosexuality. By working with him, Ann was able to talk the young man out of suicide. 

Bill was a prominent attorney. He spent a lot of time defending gay men who had been entrapped by the Portland Police.

When Ann and Bill Shepherd passed away, they left multiple legacies. The most obvious is PFLAG Portland, the first of many PFLAG chapters in Oregon. 

A wonderfully  unique legacy of Bill and Ann is a fund to promote continued advances in LGBTQ equality in the legal arena. The Bill and Ann Shepherd Legal Scholarship Fund was founded by Jeff Rose in 1995, but he died in 1997, and Susie Shepherd picked up his share of the work at that time.

Initially administered by the now-defunct Equity Foundation, it is currently administered by OGALLA: The LGBT Bar Association of Oregon. The Fund provides financial assistance to third-year and fourth-year law students who wish to advance equal rights and justice for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered individuals. Those who demonstrate this goal through the selection process and meet the criteria of eligibility are considered for funding. The scholarship has educated many attorneys who have contributed substantially to local LGBTQ equality, including Lake James Perriguey, who filed the lawsuit that resulted in marriage equality in Oregon, and Alec Esquivel, who filed the lawsuit that resulted in transgender Oregon State employees qualifying for gender reassignment surgery, provided they met all other requirements. 

In her lifetime, Ann had befriended a young gay attorney named Michael McShane. He would later be appointed judge of the U.S. District Court in Oregon. It was he who ruled that Oregon’s constitutional ban on same-gender marriage violated the U.S. Constitution. In his decision for the joint cases Geiger v. Kitzhaber and Rummell v. Kitzhaber, he wrote “I believe that if we can look for a moment past gender and sexuality, we can see in these plaintiffs nothing more or less than our own families. Families who we would expect our Constitution to protect, if not exalt, in equal measure. With discernment we see not shadows lurking in closets or the stereotypes of what was once believed; rather, we see families committed to the common purpose of love, devotion, and service to the greater community.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geiger_v._Kitzhaber) This is an eloquent statement on what family can mean to LGBTQ people.  

Journal Article

(This article is part of my series “Rediscovering Family”. I plan to publish these story by story over a period of time.)

 

 

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