Today marks six years that I have been in Oregon and three years that I have lived in Portland, Oregon. My husband and decided to leave Georgia, a place I called home for most of my life, after the virulent anti-gay laws were passed in 2004 and Sonny Perdue was elected Governor.
The laws that were passed regarding the LGBT community stated that one could legally be denied housing, health care, and employment based on sexual orientation. Georgia had become progressively more conservative during the time I lived there, but now it became a question of our safety and comfort. My husband is a native Oregonian and Marriage Equality had just become a reality there when we decided to move to Oregon (Of course later it was overturned with the full support of the bigot Karen Minnis).
When we first moved here, my in-laws were very kind and very generous to let us live with them in Albany until our house in Atlanta sold and we could buy a house in Salem. (Oy, was Salem the wrong place for a gay couple!) Salem prides itself on being the anti-Portland and it certainly succeeds. The first weekend we were in Salem we went to the Costco, only to be attacked by a white bigot in his red pickup truck who drove over the median to try and run us over. Throwing the beer bottle at us and yelling “faggot” was just the icing on the cake for that experience.
There were a series of issues that came up while living in Salem that really pushed me to the edge and made me miss all of my loved ones back in Atlanta. In our quest to make new friends and get to know some gay folk in Salem, we hosted a potluck; I was guardedly optimistic. Since moving to Oregon, my anxiety level about living in a predominately white place was rather fever pitched. There was another couple at this potluck, a white couple our age, that had just moved from Phoenix. I asked them if they liked Salem, to which they replied, “We love it here. Don’t you?” I confessed that I was having trouble adjusting, to which one of the gay men responded, “You would rather be back in Atlanta with all of those black people?” It took everything I had not to slap the man bald. I was so angry, I had to bite my tongue to prevent myself from crying. I shared what happened with my husband as proof of why I did not feel safe living in a predominately white city. Needless to say, I told my husband we needed to move to Portland and get out of Salem.
Yes, now we live in Portland. Much has changed in the past six years. We feel safe in Portland. I talk to my friends back home and there is so much venom about President Obama, very thinly veiled in racism and here Obama is still very much celebrated. Have we become the characters on Portlandia? Honestly, in some ways we have. In the three years we have lived in Portland, we had a civil union, giving us more legal protection than any state in the south. We are starting to make friends from myriad backgrounds. I’m back in school to become a social worker and yes, we have become a bit granola in our ways. We ride our bikes to go grocery shopping. We try not to use our cars. All food that we buy is locally grown, organic, and free range. If and when we dine out, we try to make sure the restaurant buys only locally. Portland really is becoming a good fit for us, although I certainly miss all the loved ones back in Atlanta. I hope the next six years will exponentially outshine the previous six years.