Recap of the Queer Town Hall

Queer Town Hall in Portland, OR

Queer Town Hall in Portland, OR

It’s been a few days, but I’d like to take the time to share the results of the Queer Town Hall that happened last thursday at the Q Center on Mississippi. The Queer Town Hall was a project organized by a bunch of folks in our community as a “response” of sorts to the recent acts of violence and inadequate police response that became especially evident over Pride Weekend this year.

Town Hall organizers aim to create a space for discussion and the sharing of information and resources to empower us to engage with each other and the authorities in a different, and hopefully safer, way.

After a short introduction, we broke into small groups that took on issues such as Queer Patrol, Our rights and the police/Copwatching, Queer Self Defence, and De-escalation techniques, amongst others. Groups consisted of about 10-12 people and each breakout session lasted 30 minutes before we switched. I attended the Our Rights And The Police session, which covered the basics on what to do when stopped, arrested or detained by the police. The workshop also briefly covered the concept of Copwatching and how to go about observing police work. This workshop was organized by the Rose City Copwatch, whose site is currently still being worked on, but should be up soon. They usually organize 2 1/2 hr workshops covering what we learned in 30 minutes, so if you are intersted in gaining more knowledge on how to interact with the police, this might be for you! The workshop was led by Maria, Collette, and Erin.

The second workshop I attended was about de-escalation techniques and was led by Galadriel, who works for Sisters of the road cafe, where she is sometimes involved in situations that need de-escalating! As a longtime pacifist and victim of various assaults in the past (homophobic and otherwise) I wanted to learn more about de-escalating situations and keeping myself and others safe. Galadriel shared some basic techniques with us before we had a chance to tell of our own stories and ask questions. Galadriel also plans on teaching/leading a series of workshops dealing with de-escalation, conflict resolution and mediation in the fall, so if you are interested in learning more, you should contact her directly to get on her email list!

After the breakout sessions we regrouped for a closing “moment” before the Queer Town Hall ended. The whole town hall was very well organized, kudos to everyone who made it happen. I liked the clear agenda, mission statement and overall conciseness of the event. I especially liked the fact that the organizers went to great lengths to create a safe space for everyone, including providing counsellors and support staff if anybody felt the need to talk so someone about what might have been traumatic life experiences. Many of us who have been out and about as (visibly) queer people in some way for long enough time have experienced physical violence, and almost all of us will at some point be threatened, verbally harassed, or silenced. It is the often unexposed truth that doesn’t fit well into glossy versions of Gay Life, and yet it is important that we don’t endanger ourselves and our freedom of self-expression by denying that, yes, sadly, we need to expect to be treated as less-than by the police, and in many cases, it is merely a matter of time before you will, for the first time, be verbally and/or physically assaulted. So learn those skills now, before it happens, find your strength before you have to use it.

On a more positive and less dire note, I’m excited about queer organizing in this city, I’m excited about the crop of new ideas, groups, marches, conferences, club nights, and yes, media organizations/groups that are popping up and that we are truly diversifying our “Gay Agenda”! I would love to see some of the topics addressed by the town hall as part of a larger queer conference here in portland, with art, workshops, learning, and sharing…to homobilize and empower all of us! The Queer Town Hall was/is an important step in making this happen.

5 comments to Recap of the Queer Town Hall

  • i attended the same 2 breakout sessions, for similar reasons – i want to be safe, and help keep others safe. i feel strongly that knowledge is power, as is coming together, and skill sharing, and tribal consciousness. i was very impressed w/ the entire town hall process – as well as the quality and amount of info the session presenters were able to share – and hope to see all the breakout sessions represented not just w/ longer workshops/presentations later, but also as part of our overall portland queer dialog/activism as we keep moving forward.

  • T Ray

    I thought the town hall was very well organized. I was glad to see there was a safer space and support folks and rooms. Great information was shared. Big thanks to those who brought it together.
    However, I wish there was a plan for the future. I thought the patrol group might be a start. However, even the facilitators did not seem interested in more than discussion of the history of some queerish patrol groups. Patrol might not be the answer but waiting around for the next bash is freakin me out. Lets do more.
    Unite for more than one night!

  • Pepper

    I wished QTH gave more room to talk about what catalyzed it, namely Blow Pony gay pride weekend. I wished that the organizers would have invited the police and officials in their official capacity to the event as a peace-keeping gesture, considering the heightened feelings surrounding how the police treated the individuals in that situation. Another reason I wish the police were invited was so that folks could be held accountable to their statements and feelings about police involvement in conflicts regarding the queer community. Something I felt attending the QTH was how divisive and exclusive uninviting a major part of it's catalyst was. I don't believe sheltering ourselves away from the force we call upon for help if we're assaulted is a step in growth. Nor, do I wish for folks who have sensitivities and trust issues with the police and their 'authority' subject to a confrontation. Where is the middle ground? I don't think it's just the SMRT…
    Furthermore, I feel so very thankful for the quick hard work the organizers put into this project as a gesture to foster greater knowledge and support. But I feel by avoiding the iceberg confrontation we steer clear of the greater problem.

    • First of all I have to express how sad I am to have missed the Town Hall. It sounds like it was well-organized. Having said that, I think Pepper makes a great point about the lack of police presence. I don't know the full story so I can't be all too critical. Was an invitation ever extended to the police by the organizers? Maybe not. But was this done to be 'divisive' – to consciously exclude any possibility of a rebuttal or explanation on the part of the police force? Or was it perhaps done to avoid an altercation between an angry crowd and the single officer (or perhaps a small crew) saddled with the unenviable position of speaking for the entire force on what was obviously a fresh and heated issue? Maybe neither is the case. Quite possibly the organizers were simply focused on addressing the Queer community on a number of safety issues; like Perry said, aggression towards the Queer community is neither new nor something that we should be ill-prepared for. Safety and de-escalation are sensible topics to discuss at any time! If someone cares to fill me in on these details, I am all ears. Until then I will reserve judgment.

  • So the motives for the decision (or whether it was, in fact, a decision) are hazy in my mind, but I still have to agree with Pepper in calling for a sensible middle ground in re: the Blow Pony fiasco – a mediation and public accounting of the events that occurred that night. The police are publicly funded and if the public wishes to heir a grievance with them and seek a response they are firmly within their rights. But riots and verbal mudslinging are not ingredients that make for effective debate (or a willingness on the part of the mudslingee to take your complaints to heart). They are certainly passionate and possibly showy, but they are reactionary. They slosh the water about, but they don't move the current forward. No member of the Queer community would debate the fact that certain individuals were victimized that night or that the responding officer behaved in a heinous way. We. Know. That. Now we must move forward and that is going to be much more readily accomplished with dignity, composure, and organization. We certainly need a demonstration of solidarity, but it needs to be tempered with a purpose. It seems to me that we shouldn't let this issue die a quiet death, but it seems only minimally gratifying to fillet one or two chosen officers at a town hall when we could seek a greater recognition of the very real and pervasive concerns of the Queer community on the part of the whole of the force.