No on 9 Remembered: Straight but not Narrow

www.NoOn9Remembered.org

1992’s hateful anti-LGBTQ Measure 9 mobilized the LGBTQ community like never before. But it also activated a huge cross-section of straight people.

Many straight folks joined the No on 9 struggle, regardless of the risk of being perceived as LGBTQ. And it was a risk. Homophobic hate crimes were soaring and being fired or denied housing for being gay was perfectly legal in most of the state.

“People would call me homophobic slurs for years afterwards, in rural areas where I travelled to speak, accusing me of running the secret homosexual agenda. I considered it a point of pride.”
~ Eric K. Ward

Of all the straight folks who spoke out against Measure 9, among the most poignant and powerful were the parents of gay people. This month, along with honoring PFLAG, we revisit the business community’s role and explore a range of relationships to being seen as “straight but not narrow.” Screenshot from the groundbreaking 1977 Gay Equality episode of Town Hall featuring LGBTQ rights pioneer Susie Shepherd (center) between her parents, PFLAG co-founders Ann & Bill Shepherd.

“Straight But Not Narrow” buttons were commonplace during the No on 9 campaign. Some straight allies believed that message reinforced homophobia, adding potency to the idea that you wouldn’t want to be thought of as gay. Others saw the buttons as an important form of solidarity, making visible that it wasn’t just gay people who supported LGBTQ rights. For some, it was simply a safer, more comfortable way to take a small stand against discrimination.

“The buttons represented people grappling with their own homophobia,” Eric Ward remembers. “It was super important to have a starter step — but, at the same time, the popularity of ‘straight but not narrow’ was a measure of how open homophobia was, even among many who would vote No on 9. I watched some folks move to the full empowerment of wearing a pink triangle pin that signaled, ‘I no longer give a fuck if you think I’m straight or gay.’”

For some, having visibly straight people — church leaders, parents, business people — speak out against Measure 9 was essential to the defeat of the measure, and to building a stronger community consensus against anti-gay discrimination. Others felt that leaders in the No on 9 campaign were trying to silence, sideline, or sanitize voices from the LGBTQ community.

We explore these dynamics in this month’s stories about the common ground found and created by straight people taking up the attack on the LGBTQ community as an affront to their own values, a fight they could not sit out. Each story offers a unique prism on how this epic battle for civil and human rights can impart lessons for today’s fight for inclusive democracy.

STORY 25: STRAIGHT BUT NOT NARROW

“The OCA represents a much more fundamental threat to all of us. They have attacked reproductive rights. They have attacked affirmative action. That’s why I’m walking, even though I’m not a lesbian.” This statement by Kelley Weigel, captured for posterity in the documentary Ballot Measure 9, reflects one place on the continuum of reasons straight people joined the fight against Measure 9. Read more.

Pastor Hennessee was one of a number of religious and community leaders seen in the video Fighting for Our Lives and throughout the No on 9 campaign, making the case to non-LGBTQ people about their stake in defeating Ballot Measure 9. Screenshot used with permission from Barbara Bernstein & Elaine Velasquez.

STORY 23: PFLAG

As more and more Oregonians came out in response to Measure 9, Parents & Friends of Lesbians & Gays (PFLAG) offered a supportive sanctuary for those whose own families rejected them, for parents struggling to understand, and for family members wanting to take action in defense of their gay kids. In Oregon, a few pioneering parents had already made their mark as activists in the 1970s. To honor the role of PFLAG during the Measure 9 campaign and today, during a new generation of attacks on trans youth and the LGBTQ community, we tell the story of Ann & Bill Shepherd and what they came to call their “life’s work.”

STORY 27: BUSINESS ALLIES

Measure 9 marked a turning point for the business community in Oregon, says longtime leader Eric Friedenwald-Fishman. “Folks who had been nervous during Measure 8, who thought they didn’t have any gay people in their workplace, had a visceral reaction against Measure 9. This is wrong. This is not who we are as a state.” Read more about how Eric’s fledgling business, Metropolitan Group, rallied support for the No on 9 campaign.

“Today when I go to the Businesses Against Discrimination luncheon… the feeling is that we’re in a state where you’d think every business has always shown up to support their employees, and said, ‘This is what we stand for.’ That was not always the reality, of course. But the dynamic has clearly shifted from ‘I don’t know about this,’ to ‘This is a fundamental thing, to stand with all people in our community.’”
~ Eric Friedenwald-Fishman

These varied efforts 30 years ago illustrate that every one of us has a stake in defending inclusive democracy — grounded in our values and what we choose to affirm through our courage and visibility.

To each person committed to defending democracy and all who are wondering what is asked of us in these fractious times, we hope that No on 9 Remembered encourages you to be brave. To take action and take heart.

To remembering the past and shaping the future,

Holly J. Pruett, Senior Fellow
No on 9 Remembered Co-Curator

P.S. Next month marks the end of our 10-month narrative history project. Catch up on the stories you may have missed. Big thanks to ShoutOUT, the digital news outlet now serializing No on 9 Remembered in weekly posts, and to GLAPN, the Gay & Lesbian Archives of the Pacific NW, for organizing a series of No on 9 commemorative events.

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Western States Center

Western States Center

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Based in the Pacific Northwest and Mountain States, Western States Center works nationwide to strengthen inclusive democracy.