It was in the kitchen of a Q Center board member. The Q Center is a year-old community space for Portland's LGBTQ crowd. My partner, Juan, is on its board, and he'd been invited to a house party to meet up with a potential candidate for the just-created executive director position. I tagged along. At the party we met Clawson. And, of course, the first thing I said was: "You remind me of Oprah."
Rather than smack me for my well-intentioned but thoughtless and tacky comment, Clawson laughed it away and said, "Why, thank you, I'll take that as a compliment."
Which is how I meant it, no matter how careless it sounds now. I was excited to meet a strong, powerful and charismatic leader, who just so happened to black, gay and female. It may have not been the right thing to say, but that's how I felt after meeting Clawson. You'll find that out, too, now that the 42-year-old CEO of her own consulting firm in West Springfield, Mass., has retired that project so she can become the new sheriff of our Gay-town.
I talked to Clawson from her Massachusetts home where she was packing boxes with her partner of 16 years, Michele (whom she married in 2006), just before the move west. I asked her if she thought it was possible to serve the diverse group of people that frequent the Q Center.
"You can't be all things to all people," said Clawson, who begins her job on June 11. "You end up spending all your time running around in circles. The Q Center will be what it needs to be for the people who invest in it. [That means] an environment where ideas are respected. Even though they may not always be enacted, I'll listen to all of them."
For Clawson, the Q Center is a "fledgling chick" getting ready to spread its wings. Far from the mothering hen I expected, Clawson is a free-thinking spirit. That's just what the Q Center—and Portland—needs right now as we struggle with our civil rights. I wouldn't be surprised if someplace like Nike poaches her away.
But for now, she's ours. And, that's a good thing.
That's because Clawson is the type of leader who has a good chance at uniting the often disparate and diverse aspects of our queer community. And it's not just because she's black, a woman and a lesbian—although I think all of that informs the person she is.
"I would be naive to think being African-American isn't an issue," said Clawson. "But it's all about your approach. I'm the kind of person who takes responsibility for the way I am in the world. I want people to look at me and what I bring as a person."
Which means I need to do that, too. She isn't Oprah. She's Kendall Clawson, the new executive director of the Q Center, and it's going to be interesting to watch what she does with that job—and Portland.