On the first day of spring, when three quarters of our state Senators made the largest-ever vote against discrimination based on sexual orientation, everybody from Senate Prez Peter Courtney to the guy who cooks up the casserole in the Capitol's cafeteria was more than happy to take credit.
But before the slaps to the backside are done, there's one more old-timer who deserves some credit, too.
He's George Nicola, and he could be considered one of the forgotten foot soldiers in our fight for gay rights.
In 1973 Nicola was just a 20-something out gay guy who was writing part-time for a couple of local newspapers.
At the time, a Reed College student introduced him to a woman who was about to become the Oregon National Organization for Women lobbyist. She was willing to show him how to do something considered impossible—get a sexual non-discrimination bill in front of the House. "It had never been proposed before in Oregon," says Nicola. And the lobbyist's name? Gretchen Kafoury, who went on to become a state rep and a P-town commish.
Even though Nicola remembers times when lawmakers laughed in his face, he managed to get 17 sponsors in all for HB 2930. First-time legislator (and future Portland Mayor) Vera Katz was the primary sponsor as was Gretchen's former hubby, Rep. Steve Kafoury. The list of other important players who supported this bill early on reads like a who's who of late 20th-century Oregon politics. Among the heavyweights: Earl Blumenauer, Barbara Roberts, Norma Paulus, Les AuCoin and legendary Gov. Tom McCall. Nicola used Katz's office as his base.
But even with all that weight, the bill failed. After the measure wound its way to the floor, it missed passing by one vote.
"We were one short vote of the majority we needed," Nicola recalls. Unwilling to share any bitterness about that time, it's interesting to note that although non-discrimination legislation has been introduced in every one of the 17 subsequent sessions Nicola has stayed away from this particular fight—although he still works on behalf of gay rights. "It was difficult to continue. I couldn't do that and maintain a full-time job. It took a lot of my time and it was an enormous amount of work. It was pretty amazing we got as far as we did on the first try, with so little organization behind us and no money," said Nicola. "Part of it may have been because the opposition didn't take us seriously enough to organize. They thought we had no chance of winning. Of course that all changed."
Yes, it has.
But Nicola isn't one to linger in the past. He says, "The most important thing is what is happening now. [Our] bill generated a lot of press coverage, so many people were aware of what occurred and how close we came. Previously, it was assumed that homophobia and gay-baiting were an accepted norm in Oregon politics. Those certainly did not go away. Now however, people no longer think this is our inevitable fate."
And we have you, George, to thank for that. Sorry it took so long.