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Oregon Legislature Fails to End Discrimination

Today the gavel fell ending the 2005 legislative session and we are faced with the harsh reality that the Oregon legislature did not meet its moral obligation to protect all of our State's families and make discrimination a thing of the past.

This is an outrage, pure and simple. Today, despite all of our work, all of our testimony, all of the heart and soul that we poured into the democratic process, all of the support that we garnered in both legislative chambers and -- in the end -- Karen Minnis, Speaker of the House, single handedly executed a series of mean-spirited political tricks that blocked civil unions and anti-discrimination legislation from becoming the law.

Your courage, commitment and unrelenting resolve to pass this bill did not go unnoticed. SB1000, a bill with bipartisan sponsors, passed the Senate 19-10, winning by nearly a 2 to 1 margin. We had the votes in the House to pass the bill, again with bipartisan support. Legislators heard more about SB 1000 than any other bill this session. Thousands of people contacted their representatives, and did so repeatedly. We have never had such a strong presence in Salem, and it was heard, for months and months.

But, in the end, one person stood between our state doing the right thing and doing the wrong thing, and that person, Speaker Minnis, abused her power to make sure that the wrong thing was done.

Using a complicated set of procedural maneuvers that came to be called the "Midday Massacre" of SB1000, Minnis stopped justice right in its tracks. She again thwarted democracy only a few days later by throwing out a 140 year old rule that allows legislators to extract a bill from committee and bring it to an up or down vote. She resorted to these extreme measures because she knew that YOU had built the support for this bill and if it came to a vote it would pass. Knowing that we had the support and still the bill did not pass is nothing less than frustrating, infuriating, and unfair.

Some have already said to us, "Well, what did you expect?" as though somehow we shouldn't have decided to fight if we didn't know ahead of time that we would win.

So let me just say it now, loud and clear: we expected justice, we expected fairness, and we expected equality. We still expect those things, and we will not stop expecting them, ever.

We also expected a fight, and of course we knew we might not win. "What did you expect?" presumes that if the struggle is tough, it's not worth the trouble. I believe that the opposite is true, that the most valuable things are those that are hard won.

Given how high the stakes are, it's not surprising that the fight is a fierce one. But that doesn't make this bitter pill any easier to swallow. We are now faced with the reality that this fight will be tough and long, but we will not give up no matter what.

As we move forward we will look at where we have been and what we have learned and we are just beginning an important evaluation process of this legislative campaign that includes your critical feedback and input about what we have done and where to go from here. Look for much more about that over the next month. Here, though, are two things that we've learned that I think are worth sharing:

First, it's never been clearer to me how important it is that we are involved in electoral politics. We need to build into a mighty force the BRO Equality PAC, which seeks to elect openly GLBT and pro-BRO candidates for key legislative races. We need to be not only a force for the positive, rewarding and reelecting our allies, but we need to become a force that will hold politicians who vote against us accountable for their actions. With your help, we can make Karen Minnis regret her actions in 2006!

And second, I've learned that when we lift up our voices, people do hear us. The outcome of this legislative session is utterly maddening. It is a terrible blow.

But I can't think about this experience without thinking of the more than 700 "While You Were Out" messages we delivered to Karen Minnis, or the thousands and thousands and thousands of emails and phone calls that poured into the legislature every time we sent out an alert, or the intrepid band of Salemites that stood outside the legislators' parking garage every morning for a month -- a month!!! -- holding signs and asking legislators to vote on our bill. . .not to mention the hundreds of people from every corner of this state, who waited for as long as seven hours and stood up at the hearings and testified so honestly about their lives, their words sandwiched between hideous lies and expressions of bigotry offered up by the other side.

I have so many of these scenes in my head. I know many of you do, too. We have represented ourselves well, and truthfully, and with determination.

Shame on Karen Minnis for her abuse of public trust, and for misusing our democratic process to uphold discrimination in our state.

With this defeat, we will become even more resolute. A friend of mine sent me a quote from Winston Churchill that says: "If you're going through hell, keep going." I love that! We have seen how close we can get, and it's clear that we will eventually win the equality we deserve.

But for now, it's important to acknowledge the pain of this loss, deal with it, and turn it into determination and passion, so that we can fight another day until we celebrate full equality.

In Solidarity,
Roey Thorpe
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