“One of the most amazing things is what people say to me when they find out I work at Basic Rights Oregon,” says the nonprofit’s executive director, Nancy Haque, who started volunteering with BRO in 2007. “Another mom at preschool came up to me and said, ‘You work at BRO? No way! Thank you for making my life possible.’ And I just started weeping immediately.”
Marriage equality, inclusive DMV gender markers, workplace discrimination protections—Basic Rights Oregon has logged some significant policy victories for LGBTQ+ Oregonians in its 24-year history. And during COVID-19, the advocacy nonprofit’s operations have expanded beyond the legislature: town hall meetings, once held annually with Oregon lawmakers, have become weekly digital events, featuring local entertainers, organizers, and businesspeople, who discuss the effects of the pandemic on queer and trans Oregonians and provide virtual counsel to our most vulnerable community members.
Last year, the organization helped pass Adi’s Act—named for Portland trans teen Adi Staub, who died by suicide in 2017—which legally requires schools statewide to implement suicide prevention policies, joining a handful of other states with similar requirements. Right now, BRO’s top policy priority is outlawing the panic defense in Oregon, which could absolve someone of violence against a trans or queer person owing to “temporary insanity” brought on by knowledge of the victim’s gender identity or sexuality.
Under Haque’s direction, BRO has also made strides toward securing legal protections for undocumented Oregonians. After the legislature passed a bill in 2013 that would enable undocumented people to acquire driver’s licenses, a ballot referendum the next year struck it down. Disheartened, Haque and her cohorts at BRO pulled together a coalition including the folks at Causa Oregon to get the legislature to overturn the referendum, and they succeeded last June.
In 1913, Marie Equi, the radical queer doctor who homesteaded on the Columbia River and for whom this award is named, told the Oregonian, “It was beyond the imagination ... that a professional woman of some money and high standing in the community could get out and work for her unfortunate sisters and brothers.” Basic Rights Oregon, in its mission to tangibly improve the lives of LGBTQ+ Oregonians, pushes that imagination further every day.