Light a Fire 2018: Most with the Least

At Portland's Q Center, the Fight for Queer Rights Is Far from Over

In the age of Trump, the community center is more important than ever.

By Eden Dawn October 17, 2018 Published in the November 2018 issue of Portland Monthly

Image: Loris Lora

We are a hub. If you’re looking for resources, you can come here. If you’re looking for a space, you can come here. If you’re looking for connection, you can come here,” says Q Center’s new executive director, Cameron Whitten, who took over the position in July. “We create a beacon of hope in the sky and say, here is where you can look to find something for you.”

The nonprofit—the largest community center of its kind in the Pacific Northwest—has been supporting those who identify as LGBTQ2SIA+ (that’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, the Indigenous concept of Two Spirit, Intersex, Asexual, and others) through a series of programs since 2003. Those range from drop-in services for seniors through the Encouraging Respect for Aging program, with meal sharing, chair yoga, and social events, to affinity groups that offer peer support for coming out. Plus, the center is home to a host of additional groups under names like Tranz Guys PDX, Gender Queery, and LGBTQ Narcotics Anonymous.

“When you show up, it feels odd at first—you don’t know anybody,” says Adem Cardona, who began visiting the center’s Tranz Guys PDX group six years ago. He now volunteers as group leader. “Now I can’t tell you how many Thanksgivings I’ve had where my family was there,” Cardona says. “And by my family, I mean the people from the affinity groups. The Q Center has been a key part of who I am and how I thrive—to be able to have a community, where in other places I’m rejected for who I am.”

But as the nonprofit celebrates a milestone 15th year in December with its Shine gala, it faces new challenges. Its leaders point to a sense of apathy in the wake of a certain amount of progress, not to mention what they see as steps backward with the election of Donald Trump. As president, Trump has announced a ban on transgender people in the military, nominated a host of judicial appointees seen as having anti-LGBTQ stances, and failed to recognize Pride month in June.

“The life cycle of LGBTQ centers has been challenged with the political changes,” says Whitten. “I think for the last 10 years folks felt like rights had been advanced, causing a lot of our centers to lose funding and close down. And now we’re at a place where we are under attack again.”

Whitten says he is determined, however, to push back against a homophobic regime and those empowered by it. “I have this vision for Q Center where we can be a leading voice of resistance and a place of healing despite our hostile national dialogue,” he says. “And we need community to come together and invest if they want to see that vision happen.”

Do you know other nonprofits, organizations, or volunteers doing incredible work? Nominate them for our 2019 Light a Fire Awards—submissions are open now!

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