The Intersection of Land Use Planning and LGBTQ+ History

Lily and Sean byline

The month of October is LGBTQ+ History Month. This month marks a time to educate ourselves on the rich history of LGBTQ+ Oregonians, acknowledge historical and current discrimination, celebrate hard-won policy victories, and recommit our efforts to make Oregon a more inclusive place to live for us all. We use the acronym LGBTQ+ to be inclusive of our lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, and questioning communities and add the “+” to recognize that there are many other initials including, but not limited to, two-spirit, intersex, asexual, pansexual, and more. These terms and initialed list are always evolving, the most important thing is to be respectful and use the term people prefer.

There is more of an overlap between LGBTQ+ history and land use planning than would appear on the surface: the work of 1000 Friends doesn’t happen in a vacuum and therefore has an effect on more than just how Oregon’s land is used — it has real implications on the lives of Oregonians. LGBTQ+ history is more than what happened in the past, it’s the present as well considering there’s much more progress to be made: progress that land use planning can advocate for.

GOAL 1: Citizen Engagement

“There will not be a magic day when we wake up and it’s now okay to express ourselves publicly. We make that day by doing things publicly until it’s simply the way things are.” – U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin

Oregon’s statewide land use planning goal 1 is citizen involvement — what we’d now call civic engagement. Civic engagement by its nature requires an individual to sidestep anonymity. Attending town halls, submitting comments and even writing to a legislator all require at least a name, and often an address. 

These factors have long shut LGBTQ+ individuals out of the civic engagement process. It’s 2021 and there are still no federal laws protecting LGBTQ+ people from discrimination pertaining to employment, housing, and public accommodations (restaurants). Oregon does have statewide protections — passed in 2007 — but that doesn’t mean public attitudes towards LGBTQ+ individuals suddenly changed with the passage of one law. 

Historically, being a member of the LGBTQ+ community meant you’d likely be ostracized from your family and neighbors, lose your job — possibly your house too, and even face jail time. How could you engage with your community when that same community could turn on you? In short, you couldn’t. So for most of the U.S.’ (and Oregon’s) history, the authentic voices of LGBTQ+ people haven’t been included. 

The Stonewall Riots of 1969 were a flashpoint not only for the civil rights of the LGBTQ+ community but also for civic engagement. Led by trans women of color — like Marsha P. Johnson — and other activists, it was one of the first times where LGBTQ+ people became visible in the everyday American experience. 

It’ll still take a herculean effort to ensure civic engagement is truly equitable, but we’re proud of the efforts 1000 Friends has taken to move the needle. During the 2021 legislative session, we authored HB 2560, also known as the equitable access to civic engagement bill. HB 2560 mandates that local, regional and statewide public meetings have a remote option for attendance and engagement. HB 2560 opens up civic engagement to a much wider array of people — including LGTBQ+ individuals — rather than exclusively those who can attend an in-person meeting.

GOAL 9: Economic Development

“The "inclusion" piece of diversity and inclusion is essential... Obviously, there's a moral imperative for diversity, and numerous studies have shown the benefits to both productivity and the bottom line.” - John C Williams, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York

Another statewide land use planning goal that has implications for the LGBTQ+ community is goal 9, economic development. Although goal 9 is mostly related to how land is used to incentivize economic development, it’s important to highlight the implications of who traditional forms of economic development have historically left behind, and how using it in a land use planning context can be more equitable. There is myriad evidence showing LGBTQ+ individuals still face on the job discrimination, roadblocks to upward mobility, and difficulties even finding a job. Statistically, trans women of color face the most adversity when it comes to employment and financial stability due to discrimination in many forms. 

All of this is to say that anything invoking economic development — even from a land use planning perspective — could (and should) include equity measures, like ensuring that companies taking advantage of economic development incentives are inclusive.

GOAL 10: Housing

“LGBT people face an array of stigma and discrimination that undermines their ability to have stable, safe, and affordable housing.” - UCLA Williams Institute

Housing is one of the most topical issues 1000 Friends works on — in part, because it is an integral and defining need in everyone's life, and especially relevant with an ongoing housing crisis. Stable housing is vital and related to many health and livability outcomes. A lack of stable housing also goes hand in hand with a lack of economic opportunities. And while Oregon has remedied housing discrimination on paper, there are still disparities to solve. A law banning housing discrimination doesn’t mean much if members of the LGBTQ+ community can’t afford the housing in question. That’s why advocating for housing options through land use planning is paramount to the fight for housing equity. 

In addition to our efforts to pass HB 2001 and Portland’s Residential Infill Project — two bills that allow for more housing options — 1000 Friends has also advocated for other legislation that removes some of the artificial equity barriers long used to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people. For example, laws defining what is — and what is not — a household. During the 2021 session, 1000 Friends advocated for a bill that prohibits cities from artificially creating limits on how many not-related individuals can live together in one household. It seems like common sense, and it is, but it’s one small example of how society has discriminated against LGBTQ+ and low-income families, and communities of color. 

Doing our part

At 1000 Friends of Oregon, our organizational policies and program policies are guided by our board-approved Equity Policy, which states “We recognize the enormous potential of Oregon’s land use planning system to enhance the quality of life for our full community, while broadening access to power and resources. We believe that the land use system in Oregon thrives when: 1) participation and decision-making reflects the full diversity of our community, 2) the interests and welfare of marginalized communities are prioritized, and 3) disparities in environmental and social impacts are accounted for, eliminated, and redressed.” 

Our staff and board are committed to ensuring that 1000 Friends is a safe and inclusive workplace for our staff and volunteers, a vocal and allied community partner in our coalitions, and a champion for increasing access to the land use planning process in our program work. We regularly engage in Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion training, review our internal policies through an equity lens, and adopt policies that make 1000 Friends a more inclusive organization. For example we recently adopted a “Pronouns & Preferred Names Practice” to create a practice of regularly sharing with each other how we want to be addressed so that we are never making assumptions about another person’s gender identity. We have LGBTQ staff, board members, and volunteers - and it is critically important that we all feel safe to come to our work as our full selves.

“I moved to Oregon from Alaska not only to have a better quality of life, but because I wanted to be a chameleon. I’ve always just wanted to blend in — especially at work. Before I moved to Oregon, there was always the uncomfortable and ever-present reality that being gay could affect my career progression, no matter how hard I worked.

1000 Friends is the first place I’ve worked where simply being me — looking, sounding, and acting like me — doesn’t come with strings attached. Because of that, I believe that both the staff and board at 1000 Friends deserve kudos for going above and beyond in creating an inclusive environment, with a real commitment to equity that’s much more than lip service.” - Sean Carpenter, 1000 Friends Communications Director