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The Road to Basic Rights for all Oregonians

Posted by amyl at May 31, 2011 02:30 PM |

Basic Rights Oregon's work is highlighted in this regular column in Street Roots, which features the organizations related to our Uniting Communities project.

When Jeana Frazzini was growing up in in central Washington, her family owned the local pizza parlor. It was the type of hang-out where anyone who came through was always treated with dignity and respect. 

“Folks who felt like they didn’t belong anywhere were always welcomed at my dad’s pizza place,” said Jeana. She started working around the restaurant when she was eight years old and was raised in an environment that laid the foundation for the work she would do. “I’ve just always been a person who fights for the underdog.” 

After graduating from college, Jeana moved to Portland to pursue organizing and social justice work. After a number of years working on a variety of causes, in 2005, Jeana joined the staff of Basic Rights Oregon (BRO), a statewide organization that formed to fight against anti-LGBTQ  (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer) measures. The far right had been pushing for anti-LGBTQ ballot measures since 1988— and Basic Rights Oregon was an underdog pushing back against their attempts at anti-equality policies such as Measure 36. 

As a board member, Jeana and the Basic Rights staff worked steadfastly to mobilize voters to vote “no” on Measure 36, a 2004 state ballot that would amend the Oregon Constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Their opponents had hired an African-American woman as the spokesperson for an otherwise white-led campaign, a tactic that helped to make voters feel as though Measure 36 wasn’t discriminatory because a woman of color was speaking on behalf of it. 

The pro-equality campaign scrambled to engage leaders in communities of color and LGBTQ people of color because those relationships had not been in place prior to the campaign. But it didn’t feel right. “We hadn’t done the work in advance to build strong relationships in communities of color,” said Jeana. 

When the votes came in, Measure 36 passed. Basic Rights had to reevaluate how they were doing their work and with whom. And this included being thoughtful when asking themselves “How do we, as an organization, engage people of color?” 

“It was humbling,” Jeana recalled. “We received feedback that our LBGTQ members of color were saying that ‘I don’t see a place for myself in this organization. You don’t prioritize the needs of my community.’ It was difficult to hear these things because I’ve always fought to include everyone in the struggle for justice and here we were leaving people behind. We were missing a whole lot of the community.” 

The Basic Rights Oregon team realized that it wasn’t so much about how to get people of color to the table to discuss these issues, but how to create a table that is welcoming and inclusive. In 2006, they launched a partnership with Western States Center to integrate racial justice in its organization—starting with basic dismantling racism training. The Center provided a roadmap as to what the work would look like for an organization like Basic Rights.

“Without the help of the Center, it would have been much more of a struggle to transform our organization and begin to do work that engages LGBTQ people of color,” said Jeana. “Together, we were able to create cultural change for our organization and for our members.”

By 2007, the Center supported Basic Rights through an internal organizational transition and now the organization was ready to get their members on the same page. Within the year, they hosted a series of workshops on immigrant rights and racial justice that informed their members about why it is important for an LGBTQ organization to ally with other groups who are being attacked by the same far right organizations. The Center supported Basic Rights in deepening their relationship with organizations like CAUSA, Oregon’s immigrant rights coalition.  

“Our opposition is often the same—the person who promoted a local anti-immigrant ballot measure in 2008 was the same person who had been involved in earlier anti-gay ballot measures,” said Jeana. “Most importantly, these anti immigrant ballot measures impact LGBTQ immigrants—so this is a direct issue for our members.”   

Since 2009, racial justice work has become a core part of Basic Rights Oregon’s work in every aspect of their programs and they have prioritized the engagement and leadership of LGBTQ people of color. 

“Nowadays, rather than saying, ‘Isn’t it interesting that we are doing this type of work.’ Now our members expect us to do this work.”

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This story was featured in a regular column in Portland's grassroots newspaper, Street Roots. The series highlights the work of our Uniting Communities project.

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