By State Representative Rob Nosse
This month I can’t stop thinking about what is going on in Newberg and a new policy which does not allow students to display a Black Lives Matter flag or sticker or a “Pride” or “Rainbow” flag in a classroom.
Aside from knowing that this is blatantly unconstitutional and the shenanigans that allowed this to happen will get dealt with, it is hard to know where to start.
I have so many thoughts and mixed emotions including, “wow this is happening because I thought we were passed this sort of thing in Oregon.”
Where to begin? I don’t often share personal things in this column but given that the legislature is made of people, the personalities and life experiences of politicians are pretty important to understand.
The things that make you tick, your childhood, your upbringing, your work/profession/career, whether you are married or have children, your gender, race and ethnicity and your faith tradition if you have one, all shape the kind of political person you are likely to be.
That is true in my case, being an openly gay man, a trade unionist for nurses, a father and now a grandfather, and a Roman Catholic (albeit one that is pro-choice and happily married to a man).
I feel for the LGBTQ-identified student as well as the BIPOC students and their families in Newberg.
It isn’t hard for me to remember being a gay kid in the 1980s in rural Ohio. It was really difficult. Gay slurs were common and I don’t really remember anyone saying anything positive or affirming about being gay when I was in high school.
It was also when the AIDS epidemic was really taking off. While rural Ohio was hardly the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic, Ohio was not immune to it either. I can still remember statements like, “you know what gay stands for don’t you? Got AIDS Yet.”
I don’t think I knew anyone from my small town who was gay until my first year of college and a friend got up the nerve to tell me.
I didn’t come out until a year after I graduated from college in 1991. While in high school and college I had girlfriends and I thought I was “straight.” By the time I graduated from college and was living alone for the first time in Columbus, OH, away from family and longtime friends, there was no way I could deny what I knew and who I was.
I got through it, but I did not think this was an awesome or exciting revelation. I can remember at least six months of wishing this had “not happened,” but being old enough to know it wasn’t going away. It was who I was.
Just as I was coming to terms with being gay, I got the opportunity to move to Oregon and take a job as the Executive Director of the Oregon Student Association in the spring of 1992.
While that opportunity set me up to become so many things I am today, I was still wrestling with coming out while moving to a state that was voting via Ballot Measure 9 on whether I was “defiant and abhorrent.”
Thankfully that measure failed and being involved in that campaign got me to be more comfortable with who I am.
A lot has changed since the 1990s. I am glad I live as a gay man in Oregon. We have good laws on the books. LGBTQ people are visible and much more accepted. I am really glad I live in Portland where for the most part being gay is often celebrated and considered no big deal, though it didn’t always feel that way.
I made choices in the past about when to come out and reveal that part of my life, something that BIPOC colleagues and friends remind me is not a choice they ever had. For the most part your race and ethnicity are very visible and while being gay is invisible for some.
I had some choice in the matter and often availed myself of that “choice” to wait or even hide this part of me depending on many things, including a need for safety, both physically and emotionally.
To the LGBTQ and BIPOC students in Newberg and to your families, I want you to know that many parts of this state care about you and want to affirm who you are.
This policy that says your school cannot display a “Black Lives Matter” or a “Pride” banner or flag will not stand.
Meanwhile hang in there. Sometimes on the way to better moments, there is a lot of struggle.