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Conversations from the Gayborhood

Photo by Ashley Bedford

Kendall Clawson, executive director of the Q center, has been referred to as Gay-prah—aka the gay Oprah—by Portland gossip extraordinaire Byron Beck. After meeting her myself in her cozy corner office at the Q, I am compelled to second that notion….to an extent.

Without a doubt, she radiates an Oprah-esque charisma, resolve and allure. But the conceitedness and ostentation? It just doesn’t exist in Clawson, whose primary concern is the LGBT community, not her own self-interest. The minute I met her, I suspected I would spend the next hour of my time doing two things: laughing and learning. And I wasn’t let down.

My chat with Clawson was so rich with info that I’ve divided the interview into two parts. This week, Clawson talks with me about the Winter Gala (pronounced GAY-la for this occasion), her favorite Portland personalities, and which character she would date from the L word.

Clawson at the Q center, Photo by Ashley Bedford

Krista Houstoun: Let’s talk about the event coming up this Saturday.

Kendall Clawson: Yes! [Sings] Winter GAAAY-LA! And it is GAY-la. [laughs]

KH: It’s GAY-la?! There has been some debate in my household about the pronunciation, but it certainly should be GAY-la: it is very gay!

KC: It’s so gay. [laughs]

KH: Tell me a little about it.

KC: Last year we kicked into the Winter Gala. It’s a big celebration and our biggest fundraiser. This is the big Kahuna, and we’re really hoping the community will come out and support us. It’s literally going to go towards keeping the lights on [at the Q center].

What made the Winter Gala really successful last year was that it was about socializing, and hobnobbing, and elbow rubbing, and dancing, and having cocktails, and enjoying some good food, and laughing, and putting on your finery.

KH: I saw pictures from last year and everybody looked very sharp.

KC: Yeah! It’s just fun to get dressed up and go to a party…we want to celebrate our community because that’s who we are. So we just throw a big annual community celebration and encourage people to come down and dance their butts off and have a good time.

Attendees looking sharp at last year's gala

Attendees looking sharp at last year's gala

KH: Rumor has it that this year’s gala is supposed to be bigger—and I think I heard glittery-er—than last year? Can you confirm this?

KC: [laughs] I can. It is going to be fantastic…We’ve been planning since August. We stick with the winter theme, so it’s going to be glittery and shiny and sparkly…We’ve got Tahoe Jackson, an awesome soul diva, who is going to thump. it. out.

And the Pete Petersen Orchestra [is] returning from last year…A big thing that we heard from everybody after last year is that you don’t get a party really in the queer community where you can go dancing—where it’s not like DJ-type dancing, but [the kind where you] dance with your sweetie.

KH: Swing ’em across the room type dancing.

KC: Yeah! Hold them close, cheek to cheek. We [also] have some surprises, which I won’t tell you! But let me just say that they will get your attention and call out a few gasps in the room.

[And] the thing that’s going to make the Winter Gala supper glittery are the VIP tickets, which are $175. Our regular gala ticket, which is where the meat and potatoes of everything is, is $75. Beer and wine are hosted and then there are hors d’oeuvres, desserts and all kinds of goodies to make it really fun. But VIP, if you can swing it…

KH: It’s the place to be?

KC: It’s worth it. [VIP] is all about a private lounge effect, private bathrooms, a hosted bar all night…you go right back to the VIP lounge and your cocktails are covered. There is going to be a glitter bar hosted by David Scott and his colleagues at The National Beauty…they will be there to do hair and makeup and glitter you up. There will be a private band that’s going to be playing in there, and swag bags, and just lots of lovin’ you up.

KH: So does the VIP ticket come with cab fare? [laughs]

KC: Well, we do have a Q center rate at the Nines! The Nines is not only a beautiful environment, but they have been an active supporter of the Q center…They’ve been very generous with us. [The night of the Winter Gala] you can sleep over for $119 a night at the only 5 star hotel in Portland.

the gala will be held at the Nines (525 SW Morrison)

KH: Wow!

KC: Yeah, I’m staying over. It’s worth it. I learned my lesson last year! [laughs]

KH: You might as well just book it in advance.

KC: Right! All you do is pour yourself into an elevator.

KH: [laughs] Rather than worry about stumbling home…Or who you’re going home with!

KC: [laughs] Exactly!

KH: I have a few questions for you personally, if that’s OK.

KC: Alright, we’ll see! [laughs]

KH: They aren’t too down and dirty, so it shouldn’t be too bad…Do you watch the L word?

KC: Yes.

KH: Who is your favorite character?

KC: Bette, all the way!

KH: Really?! Because you relate to her?

KC: Yes, yes. I like her. She’s dirty, and powerful, and vulnerable at the same time. And hot. She’s totally hot. [laughs]

KH: See, I relate to her but she wasn’t the hot one for me.

KC: It’s funny because they all had [a] different hotness. Like, who was the funny one? Uh…

KH: Alice.

KC: Alice. See Alice is somebody that I would love to date, she’s adorable.

KH: That’s how I felt. I relate to Bette because I want so badly to be a power lesbian, but I would date Alice.

KC: Yeah, I would in a heartbeat. She’s adorable.

KH: Who is your favorite Portland personality?

KC: Well, OK, so everybody knows that I think Storm Large is the hottest thing on the planet…other than my wife. [laughs]

KH: I will make sure to put that part in the interview. [laughs]

KC: Yeah, thanks! [Storm] is an ally, and she understands what our world is about, and she puts her money and her time where her mouth is. Yes, she’s got the big public personality and lots of people think she’s gorgeous—I am definitely one of them and I have not kept that a secret—but she’s so much more than that, [she’s] just a really deep and rich person.

Storm Large and Kendall Clawson @ last year's gala

[Then] there are people that are sort of unsung hero’s…people that do a lot of things and don’t get recognized for them. So I’m going to go with [an answer that] could be perceived as the nice, easy answer, but I’m going to solidify it with saying that this is my absolute truth.

KH: OK, I’m caught in anticipation…

KC: It’s my staff…And I’m not saying this to suck up to these guys because I don’t need to. Literally, there are three individuals who work night and day for this organization [Glenn Goodfellow, Paul Fukui, and Alan Colley]. We don’t get out of here under ten hours a day…And those three guys keep me sane—they love me up when I need encouragement, they’re honest, they’re truthful, and they give and give and give…It’s those three fellows who are making it happen.

KH: I don’t think it’s a cliché answer at all. OK, last one. Sum yourself up in 5 words or less.

KC: Oh my gosh! [laughs] Complicated, driven, dedicated, silly, and well-intentioned.

As for my summation on Clawson? She’s better than Oprah, and she is ours to relish.

The Winter Gala is this Saturday, January 30th at the Nines (525 SW Morrison). General admission tickets are $75, and VIP tickets are $175. Doors open at 8:30 p.m., and there is a reception for VIP attendees from 7:30-8:30. Don’t miss this chance to look fabulous, over-drink, and support the queer community. All proceeds go toward keeping the Q center—Portland’s very own queer clubhouse—alive and well.

Stay tuned for next weeks Conversations from the Gayborhood, where we’ll be chatting more with Clawson about the current LGBT political climate and what the Q center is all about.

Krista Houstoun loves Oprah, glitter and more wine than is good for her heart. If you know someone in the queer or allied community who is doing a damned good job at life, e-mail krista.houstoun@gmail.com to nominate them for an interview.

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