One of the Voices of Social Justice: Matthew Johnson

19 Jul


As the conversation around civil rights and marriage equality has become a very hot button topic during this Presidential election year, my friend Matthew asked if would I interview him for my blog.  Matthew and his wife are not just our neighbors, they have become our friends and family here in Portland.  One can catch us at their house with their kids or all of them at our house on our front porch.  I have to thank Matthew for speaking out and using his heterosexual privilege to help marginalized populations. This is the second interview in what I hope will be a year long series.

Where and how did you grow up?

I grew up in a little white yuppy bubble in Ohio—the conservative town of Chagrin Falls, a suburb of Cleveland. I found out in high school that our county had been gerrymandered around a black community and 95% of the high school graduates went on to college.  The gerrymandering made it impossible for black kids to attend my high school and none of us realized how privileged we were.  Coming out of high school was a shock to me because I met a huge group of people that were not like me: gay and lesbian, black people, people that were not from the same socioeconomic status.  Where I grew up, if you were gay, no one really dealt with the issue. One could never bring up the issue—it was a taboo issue, we would just say ‘he is just light in the loafers.’  It is not a bad place to grow up, but it is very sheltered and very privileged.

Matthew met his wife in Seattle and upon learning they were pregnant they decided to move to Portland to buy a house and raise their family; they currently have four children:

I was pleasantly surprised to found out how progressive Portland is and I was happy to find out that Multnomah County is the most secular county in the country. I did grow up going to church—a Christian church, but not evangelical—I still chafed under it. I chafed under it because my nature is to question and the Christian church is not set up for that—it is not set up for debate. [Currently, Matthew identifies as atheist.] This does not mean I hate Christians. I appreciate the comfort it gives them, I just don’t subscribe to it.

Do you consider you and your wife political?

We are political in that we vote and we vote at every opportunity. We don’t campaign or canvass but we don’t hold our political views to ourselves. My wife identifies as a Democrat and I identify as an Independent.  We both believe in civil rights and that no one should be able to deny others’ civil rights.

Why did you feel compelled to visit with me about Marriage Equality? 

I believe strongly in it.  I want to have some sort of an outlet as a person of privilege who does not need to address the issue, but I feel compelled to.  If I were a gay man and wanted to get married I would need to go out and approach legislators.  As a straight man I need to help and work to make a difference.  [Matthew is fully aware of the power of straight allies and the use of our collective voices.] The whole issues is insidious—the issue of marriage equality is not a threat to my heterosexual marriage, nor is it a threat to any heterosexual marriage.  I’m not putting anyone on a pedestal: I’m just saying that as a group (LGBTQ) should have the same rights that everyone else has—it is not a privilege it is a right!  For full disclosure, I have a lesbian sister.  She came out a decade ago and I was the last person she told.  When I asked her why I was the last person, she said “because I didn’t think it would be an issue with you.”  My parents were very accepting.

I know a bunch of heterosexual couples that do not want children, so does that mean their marriage is invalid? I have a real problem with the inequitable distribution of power—you can’t institute who someone falls in love with anymore than you can institute what color people are supposed to love.

Call to action for LGBTQ allies: 

Vote first of all—that is a big one.  Don’t be afraid of the issue and if it comes up be willing to speak your mind. People need to know that does not just concern the LGBTQ community—other people do care.  Don’t let people voice homophobic comments—gay jokes are not cool.  My kids will never make gay jokes!  Just as my wife was taught never to play the game “Smear the Queer.”  Her dad taught his children not to be homophobic.

Matthew and Erin, thank you for teaching your children not to be homophobic and for being wonderful friends and allies.

8 Responses to “One of the Voices of Social Justice: Matthew Johnson”

  1. nevercontrary July 21, 2012 at 6:05 pm #

    Truly beautiful people.

  2. nevercontrary July 31, 2012 at 10:08 am #

    What are you and your neighbors thoughts on the public schools in the portland area? I read that overall Oregon is not very strong, but you cannot truly tell until you ask educators in an area and people who have kids in those schools.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt July 31, 2012 at 10:12 am #


      Great question. Honestly, it is a bit of a mixed bag. I have to say that in general, we have great public schools with amazing teachers. We just need more money, but kids get a good education here. There was a really horrible tax thing in 1985 which really hurt public schools. We may have to tempt you to move out west. 🙂

      • nevercontrary July 31, 2012 at 10:17 am #

        What about the programs for gifted kids?

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt July 31, 2012 at 10:21 am #

        I’m very happy to say that several middle school and high schools offer the IB programme, which is a very progressive and rigorous program. On a side note, what do you think of the new format for the blog? I’m trying to get some feedback to see if I need to tweak it more.

      • nevercontrary July 31, 2012 at 10:30 am #

        Fabulous I did IB!
        I like the new format. Very colorful. Your I’m thinking serious thoughts pic is a good fit.

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt July 31, 2012 at 11:13 am #

        I’m glad you like the IB programme. Thanks for the feedback about the new format.

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