Portland, OR. “That was incredible,” said Executive Director of Basic Rights Oregon Nancy Haque, (pictured eighth from the left above in pre-covid days). She was reacting to a recent Supreme Court ruling. “People have been working for decades to get this kind of protection for the LGBTQ community, and to get that victory now, when we really needed a victory, felt really good.” Hague was weighing in about the June 15th Supreme Court ruling that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects LGBTQ members from employment discrimination. The ruling is widely considered a historic step towards equality for the LGBTQ community. She spoke at a virtual town hall on June 23rd. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, Basic Rights Oregon has held weekly virtual queer town halls in an effort to build community and to share information with the LGBTQ and larger Oregon community.

The focus in the town halls is on current events and features statewide leaders and experts in a variety of fields. Previous discussions have focused on issues such as healthcare, housing, employment, and discrimination. After the discussion, panelists answer audience questions.

On Tuesday, June 23, five speakers, including Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosemblum and Unite Oregon representative Inger McDowell, discussed hate crimes and recent legislation that clarifies gender discrimination as a protected class. 

“Thank you so much to BRO for hosting this event,” Rosenblum said, “This is a time for me to be listening and learning … We need to make sure that people of color and the LGBTQ community and the disabled community [are] at the table and that we are together—and that [elected officials] are the ones doing the listening.” 

Since the pandemic began, many operations at BRO have changed. All workers and volunteers now work remotely, and events planned for the summer—such as BRO’s large annual fundraising event “Ignite”—are being adapted into virtual events. The weekly virtual town halls began in an effort to keep the community engaged with BRO’s work.

Over the past few months, BRO has done significant outreach to get important information to those in the LGBTQ community affected by the pandemic. 

“Part of what’s happened with the pandemic is an economic disaster for many people,” said BRO Executive Director Nancy Haque. Haque emphasized that many in the LGBTQ community work in the hospitality industry and do not have a large financial cushion, and as a result are facing dire financial insecurity. 

Nancy Haque, Executive Director of Basic Rights Oregon

“We shared info about how to apply for unemployment benefits and snap benefits,” Haque said, “We’ve also made an effort to try and respond to people’s needs and questions.” 

Even though many of BRO’s events have been either canceled or adapted into virtual events because of the pandemic, Haque said that BRO has been given a lot of great support by new donors which the organization has never worked with before.  

However, Haque emphasized that there’s still work to be done. “There’s a lot of things we have to do as a state and as a community to continue to help the LGBTQ community,” she said. “We would love your continued support, and your support for our virtual events.” 

On top of the pandemic, BRO has also expressed support for the Black Lives Matter movement. “We also get to think and dream about what we can do and what we can build and how we can be part of the fight for racial justice,” Haque said, “We’ve had an organizational commitment to racial justice, but we need to keep it on the forefront of our work.” 

The next queer town hall will be held on Tuesday, June 30, at noon over YouTube Live, and will focus on what pride month means for BIPOC members of the LGBTQ community.

From Basic Rights Oregon: 

Basic Rights Oregon will ensure that all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Oregonians experience equality by building a broad and inclusive politically powerful movement, shifting public opinion, and achieving policy victories.

Here’s a video about the organization:

About the Queer Town Hall:

In an effort to develop community and stay connected and informed during these trying times, Basic Rights Oregon has set up weekly Queer Town Hall on Tuesdays. Streaming live on YouTube, we’ll be speaking with a wide variety of experts on issues that matter most to you, including healthcare, housing, employment, discrimination, and more. It’s your chance to ask your questions and have your voice heard, so join in!

 

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