By Erin Rook, PQ Monthly
When members of Portland’s LGBTQ community realized the local PFLAG chapter wasn’t attracting people of color, organizers didn’t just chalk it up to the city’s demographics. Instead, Antoinette Edwards and Kerry Johnson worked with PFLAG Portland’s Dawn Holt and Terry Noble to create a new chapter designed to meet the culturally-specific needs of African American LGBTQ folks and their allies.
By 2009, they had formed the first African American/Black chapter of PFLAG in the nation. This month, the group celebrates its fourth anniversary.
“We appreciated the work of PFLAG Portland chapter and the space it created for families to talk and get support, but we felt that it was not culturally specific enough to address all of the concerns of our community,” says PFLAG Portland Black Chapter’s coordinator, 34-year-old Khalil Edwards.
Through dialogue with the community, organizers learned what was lacking and how to fix it. Before long, new members emerged to take advantage of the unique and needed space.
“We have a member who lives in Forest Grove, which is about 45 minutes from Portland,” Edwards says. “Forest Grove has its own PFLAG chapter, but our member comes all the way in, not only for our monthly support meetings, but for any event we hold, because she feels more comfortable here. To us, that is immeasurably important.”
While Edwards’ mother helped form the group, he was not involved until later. He says he was surprised to learn that Portland was the first city to have a Black PFLAG chapter, especially considering the size of Portland’s African American community. But other cities with larger communities of color are watching closely.
“We have been reached out to by folks in Chicago, who have started an African American chapter, [and] Los Angeles and Birmingham — all who have been excited about what we have accomplished and hope to replicate it in their own areas,” Edwards says.
But the specificity of PFLAG Portland Black Chapter isn’t the only thing that makes it distinct. While the parent organization has traditionally focused on support, Edwards says, the PBC also takes on advocacy, organizing, and leadership development.
“Our entire organization is made up of those most affected, either as LGBTQ people of color or as their loved ones. And since we have a member-based decision-making process, those are the people who decide the direction of the organization,” Edwards says. “I think it is very significant when working for social and racial justice to have the folks directly being impacted by the issues driving, leading, and at the forefront of that fight.”
It’s only fitting then that this year’s anniversary celebration — hosted by Alexis Campbell Star — will feature remarks from Kendall Clawson, director of executive appointments for Gov. John Kitzhaber and former Q Center executive director.
The party goes down Sunday, Feb. 24, at 5:30 p.m. at the Curious Comedy Club. Tickets are $10 in advance, $15 at the door, and include the program, a buffet, and a cash bar for those 21 and over. All ages are welcome; the space is wheelchair accessible. For more information, visit pflagpdx.org.
Originally published in PQ Monthly.