Queer Heroes NW 2012
John Wilkinson and Holly Hart
Sometimes it is possible to follow a number of stories back to a single beginning. Holly Hart and John Wilkinson were there when the LGBTQ civil rights movement in Portland, Oregon, first came into focus.
In 1970, it was difficult to find anything in print that was positive about homosexuality. Portland was no longer attempting to close all gay bars, but gays were still publicly demonized. Oregon was one of 49 states in which gay sex was still a crime.
That year, a young man, name unknown, attempted to place an ad in an alternative newspaper, the Willamette Bridge. The proposed ad read: “Gay, longhair, young, lonely, seeks meaningful relationship with same. Answer with ad in the Bridge.” The Bridge refused to run the ad.
A staff member at the Willamette Bridge, John Wilkinson disagreed with the decision not to run the personal ad. John was an openly gay 21-year- old, and in response he wrote an article contending that gay people needed to organize to achieve full human dignity, suggesting that gay Portlanders needed something like the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) which had recently formed in New York. No one had ever said this in Oregon media.
Holly Hart, who had been publishing feminist articles in the Willamette Bridge, then came out as a lesbian, and started writing about gay issues as well. Soon, the Bridge carried numerous articles on gay dignity, written by gay people. Holly and John helped organize Portland’s GLF which met weekly at a Portland coffeehouse. At the second meeting, John met Dave Davenport, who became his partner for life.
Holly went on to law school, then came back to head Governor Robert Straub’s Commission on Gay Civil Rights. She also established Old Wives’ Tales Restaurant, a family-friendly community favorite still going strong today. John left Oregon in the late 1970s, and became an AIDS activist in California. He currently lives in Washington where he was a pioneer in that state’s marriage equality movement.
Over the past 40 years, the Portland Gay Liberation Front evolved into the large LGBTQ movement we have today. While our quest for equality and dignity is far from complete, it is much easier being an LGBTQ Oregonian today than it was in 1970. We owe a debt of gratitude to those who took the first steps.
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