Media Room

REMARKS AS PREPARED

Governor Kate Brown
Oregon Gay and Lesbian Law Association Annual Dinner
October 19, 2018
 
Good evening.

I am grateful and deeply humbled to be named a recipient of OGALLA’s Award of Merit. Wow. What an honor.

I have been to many OGALLA dinners over the years. One of my favorite features of these dinners is the coming together of every generation of our professional community.

As I look out on the law students and young lawyers in the room, I think back on my own experience as a young lawyer in this community. A lot has changed.

When I entered the legal profession, I learned what it feels like to be terrified going to work every day, afraid that I might lose my job because someone would discover that my partner was a woman. I walked on eggshells each day, feeling like I had to stuff my spirit in a box.

And I learned what it feels like to be treated differently and paid less – substantially less – than a man, even though I knew I was doing a better job.

Several years later, I joined the Oregon legislature. By then — in the early nineties — I had figured out who I was and how to describe myself. Bisexual.

I had an off-the-record conversation with a reporter who had questions about my sexual orientation. So I told them.

A year or so later, that same reporter called me. They were doing a front-page story on Oregon’s “LGBT political caucus” and they were going to out me as bisexual in the article.

I wondered, how will my colleagues react when they find out who I really am?

Well, after I was outed by The Oregonian, a male Republican colleague in the Legislature walked up to me and said, “Read that you are bisexual. Guess that means I still have a chance?”

His humor set me at ease. If even my most conservative Republican colleagues could accept me, it was going to be ok.

Coming out as a politician in the mid-nineties was challenging. At the time I didn’t know anyone else in elected office who identified as bisexual. To the straight community, I was gay, but to the gay community, I wasn’t gay enough. I felt alienated.

I also hadn’t come out to my parents before being outed publicly. It was challenging for my parents to understand this wasn’t a choice, this was me.

But I learned from these experiences. And I resolved to dedicate my career in public service to improving the lives of marginalized Oregonians — giving a voice to the voiceless.

As a junior legislator in the 1990s, I introduced a bill to protect LGBT people from discrimination. At the time, people thought the idea was ridiculous. But I fought for that legislation year after year, until finally, in 2007, we got it passed into law. And that same year, we passed a law creating domestic partnerships for same-sex couples who couldn’t marry under the Oregon Constitution.

And so, after decades of fighting for this community, it was a sweet moment indeed when — as Governor — I finally signed into law a change to the definition of marriage that includes same-sex couples.

When I was sworn in as Oregon’s 38th Governor, headlines in newspapers around the world announced me as “America’s first openly bisexual governor.”

Shortly after I took office, I received a letter from a young person who told me they felt like my coming out gave them a reason to live.

I think about that letter in the tough moments of this very tough job. If I can be a role model for one young person, it's worth it.

Everyone deserves to live with dignity, and I am proud to serve Oregonians and to be the first and only openly LGBT governor in the country.

We have good reason to be optimistic: according to the Victory Fund, there were more than 430 openly LGBT people who ran for office at every level of government this year. After the primaries, 244 LGBT people are still in the running.

This means our community feels motivated and empowered to bring change to every level of government.

And if even a fraction of those 244 people is elected, the halls of power will be populated with members of our community dedicated to improving the lives of the marginalized — to giving a voice to the voiceless.

And our country will be a more just and fair place as a result.

Thank you for this extraordinary honor.