An interview with Portland mayoral candidate Charlie Hales.
Charlie Hales: I think it was in my sophomore year of college that I realized this fact had been around me all the time. I had no one in my immediate family who is gay or lesbian, but was very involved in music and drama in high school, and some of my friends in that community were able to be a little more open than perhaps my friends on the football team. This was in Northern Virginia, so a more enlightened place than the rest of the south, but still it was Virginia and it was in the 1970’s.
JO: When did you first meet transgender folk?
CH: Oh, probably not until Portland did I really encounter transgender folks.
JO: How did this feel to you?
CH: Um, kind of strange and very urban. I mean I came to Portland by choice. I wanted to live in an enlightened, progressive city. The environmental values in Portland are what really attracted me at first. That’s what I was looking for, and the Tom McCall vision of Portland as a green, sustainable place was the hook for me that pulled me all the way across the country with no job. I didn’t know anyone here. So like a lot of twenty-somethings, I was 23, I came to Portland in an old car, from somewhere else, drawn by the vision of the place, and then came to appreciate the diversity of who lives here.
JO: There are estimates that as many as 40% of homeless youth are LGBT, queer, or questioning. What role does the City of Portland play in working with this population?
CH: A very direct one. I started my day today serving breakfast at New Avenues for Youth, a drop-in breakfast for whoever comes in from the street that morning. To see those young people, that diversity … you’ve got diversity of sexual orientation and gender identity. You’ve got ethnic diversity. And you’ve got diversity of why they’re homeless in the first place.
In some cases you’ve got kids who have not been well served by the foster care system. In other cases you have kids who’ve been with an abusive parent, or kids who have substance-abuse problems, mental illness. There’s a huge spectrum, and the city is a huge player in dealing with homelessness in partnership with the county and great non-profits like New Avenues, Outside In, Central City Concern, and all the rest.
JO: Are there programs the city is involved in that would change if you were mayor?
CH: There’s a famous quote where someone asked Samuel Gompers, an early labor union leader, what he wanted for the labor movement, and he said “more.” And I think when you look at what needs to be done with respect to this partnership that tries to address homelessness, it’s “more.” More shelter beds, more opportunities to get into transitional housing, more job training like they do at New Avenues, more chance for kids who’ve fallen through the cracks of education to finish and get their GED.
JO: The CEO of Chick-fil-A has spoken publicly against LGBT equality, and Boston mayor Tom Menino responded saying he would oppose Chick-fil-A opening in Boston. If Chick-fil-A wanted to put new stores in Portland, how would you respond as mayor?
CH: I would use the bully pulpit of the office, and the authority that I have, to make sure our values are reflected in more than just words. So, that means I would pick up the phone and I would say, ‘if this is really your philosophy you should consider locating in other cities and not here.’ I’d start with that.
Now understand, you don’t want to over-promise in this business, so if Chick-fil-A files for a building permit and doesn’t need any discretionary approvals from the city, we have to give them one. There’s stuff we can do and things we can advocate for, but there are limits to our powers.
JO: What is your opinion of Mayor Adam’s efforts to support transgender inclusion in Portland, including healthcare coverage, restroom policies in public buildings, and so on?
CH: I support and applaud what Mayor Sam has done. This is another area where Portland has done the right thing. It ain’t broke, and I don’t need to fix it. We just need to continue to do more, to carry on this agenda, which has had pretty strong leadership.
I was taught how to be a civic leader by Mayor Katz, and Sam was her chief of staff. She was a great mentor to me in a lot of ways, including helping to build my understanding of the LGBT community and the importance of related public policy going back to domestic partner ordinances that we passed, and fighting against Ballot Measures 9 and 13 together. She really showed me how to be a leader for the whole community, for that agenda as well. So Sam has done the right thing, and I’ll try to carry that on. No course correction needed.
JO: Portland Public Schools is about to ask homeowners for more money. Many LGBT people have children in public schools, but many more do not. In fact, LGBT people have often been discouraged from even coming near children. In light of historical anti-LGBT bigotry, what would you say to LGBT Portlanders being asked to spend more money on other people’s kids?
CH: This is one of the primary reasons why I am running for this office in the first place. Everything we say we are as a city is tied up in public education. The idea of the commonwealth, and of the social contract where you can live in a great neighborhood and have your kids going to a great public school, which is the anchor of your neighborhood, still holds here. But, it’s not guaranteed and it’s under a lot of strain, because we’ve been holding that promise together with duct tape and bake sales for 20 years since the passage of Measure 5.
I am passionate about this issue and I want to round the corner from the permanent crisis to stable funding for public education. I want to fix up the buildings, which is why I support the bond measure that’s on the ballot this fall.
Everybody’s got a stake in [public education], it doesn’t matter whether you’ve got kids or not. It’s our economy, it’s our quality of life, it’s our crime rate, it’s the value of our real estate. It runs through everything we are as a community. Everybody’s in this boat together. And, I hope and expect that our public school districts in Portland will embrace our diversity and that the LGBT community will be welcome as parents, volunteers, teachers, mentors, as activists in the schools, with open arms, and without a blink of concern.
JO: What training do the Portland Police get around LGBT culture and concerns? Do you see any need for change in this area?
CH: The shorter answer to the first part of your question is that I don’t know what training they receive. It’s a good question, and we ought to know the answer to that. But, overall I am concerned about the training the Portland Police Bureau is receiving, and I want to steer the culture of the police bureau very clearly towards the model of community policing. Right now we’re schizophrenic about that. Sometimes we’re a community-policing bureau, and sometimes we’re not. I did a ride-along with a young officer who came up through Self-Enhancement, Inc [a Northeast Portland youth program]. We’re driving past Unthank Park and he’s got the window down and is calling the kids by name. Another time, I was at Holladay Park and a police officer drove across the park on the sidewalk, scattering pedestrians. Fortunately there were no blind people or kids on the sidewalk. That’s not community policing.
So, those two incidents crystallize the fact that we’re not fully there with the ideal of community policing. And there’s more to it than whether you’re driving nicely or not. It’s whether you understand the community you serve. Do you understand that you are there to protect and serve, not that you’re a part of an occupying army? Do you look for every opportunity to de-escalate? Do you understand the public that you’re dealing with in all of its diversity, including people with mental illness?
And the answer, of course, is that we’re not there, either because of the tragic uses of force in cases where it wasn’t necessary over the past several years. Which is another motivation for why I am running for this office. The police will receive clear leadership towards cultural competence, community policing, and towards problem solving. Those are expectations I will set for the police bureau, which I plan to keep as one of my own assignments.
JO: Many Portland minorities have neighborhoods historically associated with them. In Portland, historically African American or LGBT neighborhoods, such as NE Albina and SE Stark, have been largely eliminated by gentrification. Do you see the city as having a role in addressing the impact of gentrification on minority cultures?
CH: Yes. One, we just have to learn from what’s happened, and try to be more sensitive in what we do in the future. When we think about redevelopment and urban renewal, we need to think about supporting the character of the neighborhood, rather than supplanting that character. And so loans to existing businesses, access to housing for existing residents, those are priorities that we ought to raise as we try to make positive change in neighborhoods, rather than the old formula in which we’re there to “fix the blight,” and residents respond with, “Wait a minute, I’m not blight!”
So, again I want to praise things that Mayor Adams is doing. I think this neighborhood prosperity initiative that’s focusing on economic uplift for small neighborhood districts rather than replacement of districts by the latest urban renewal fad is a good approach. And I want to continue and expand that approach.
JO: Portland has policies to proactively encourage hiring women and minorities both as employees and contractors. While LGBT people are protected in hiring decisions, they are not clearly included in the proactive, or affirmative action measures. Should they be?
CH: I hadn’t thought of it. Why not? I’d certainly like to explore that. That’s a new thought. A new question that you just articulated. The point of affirmative action is to correct underrepresentation, not just stop discriminating. And, if there … and I bet there is … underrepresentation, then let’s check it out and do the right thing.
JO: Moving in a different direction here, have you personally known anyone who died of AIDS?
CH: Yes. Keeston Lowery [former assistant to former County Commissioner Mike Lindberg]. I worked with him. He was irreverent, even about his condition. He was amazing, and his sense of humor was there until the end.
JO: What role does the city play in addressing HIV related health concerns?
CH: Again, we have to do so much in concert with other governments, in order to do our job well. Although I don’t see a major role addressing HIV in the city’s core functions, I do see a lot of partnerships. You look at needle exchange at Outside In, and how both the Police Bureau and the county health programs have to support that kind of service. That’s one of those places where from the citizens’ standpoint, they don’t care if this is a county service, city service, or a non-profit, but whether we’re being thoughtful and effective.
JO: When did you meet your first drag queen?
CH: (Laughs) I think probably on a road trip to the dubious corner of Richmond, Virginia, while I was in college. There were some drag queens out on the street in front of a club and we had a, you know, a jovial conversation. And, of course, once arriving in Portland I made the obligatory first visit to Darcelle’s.
JO: Have you ever worn drag?
CH: (Grins) Let me think about that. I’d better answer that carefully.
JO: Any pictures?
CH: (Laugh) I don’t think so. I don’t think I have, so I don’t think there’s a picture. I’m open to that, though. I got pretty close in the Pride parade a couple of times.
JO: Why should Portland’s LGBT community vote for Charlie Hales?
CH: Not just because I’ve been there and proven, as Gail [Shibley] said, that I was there before being pro-gay was being cool, and took flack for doing things like opposing Measure 9. Not just because I’ve helped fight the good fights. But, as a straight male in a city that I love, I think people from the LGBT community that know me say, by the look in my eye, and the kind of hug that we exchange, that this guy really cares. He really cares about our community. He not only gets it. He’s not only on the right side of the policy issues, but he cares about us as people.
JO: Anything else you want to say to our community?
CH: Portland is the best place for everybody, and I’m going to work really hard to keep it that way.
About Leo Schuman
Leo Schuman is Just Out's political writer. He's also a recovering lawyer, software developer, and self-admitted politcal junkie. While not an Oregon native - he left Montana to come out in a "big city" (cough) - nearly 30 years in Portland have grown him a fine mossy layer. He and his husb ... er, "domestic partner", Michael, live in St Johns.