In Transit: Thanks, Sam

From behind the scenes during the era of Mayor vera Katz and later, to the front line as a city commissioner and mayor, Sam Adams was someone at City Hall who was watching out for transgender citizens — a peace of mind for many, knowing no misfortune was going to sneak up on us in the city of Portland, Oregon.

While it is true that a personal decision or two by Adams left many Portlanders with their mouths agape, it doesn’t erase the fact that it may be some time before many of us feel as comfortable again as we are feeling right now.

Many transgender sisters and brothers easily relate to Adam’s upbringing — a rough road lined with bullies and distant dreams. Success, when it came, didn’t rid us of bullies and haters — only Adams knows how this feels. Portland’s next mayor will certainly be our ally, but will never have worn our shoes.

Highly regarded trans-friendly cities like Portland are rare and the occupants of city hall determine where the bar is set. I have a large presence on social media and Portland’s reputation as a trans haven is stated over and over again both by people living here and those that have lived here at one time or another. I’ve never hesitated to say “yes” when asked if Portland is safe for trans people.

While violence is a threat for all LGBTQ citizens, transgender people are especially targeted. In Portland, the instances of violence are relatively low. Furthermore, trans people here generally do not fear calling the police, as is often the case elsewhere; trans people feel the police will not protect them from being harassed or beaten, or they fear being harassed, bullied or beaten By the police. One can sense Adams is attuned to this in the way he’s handling the Ronald Frasnour firing (Frasnour was fired for shooting Aaron Campbell, who was unarmed, in the back on Jan. 29, 2010). No trans citizen should fear their own police force.

Trans-friendly, low-violence, police attuned to our needs, and strong allies at City Hall doesn’t seem to be ask- ing for much, but sadly, in most large American cities, the lack of two or more these conditions is the norm. I’m grateful that the current and past mayors and commissioners wisely molded Portland into the great city that is for trans people today.

Now with the era of Sam Adams ending, I have an uneasy feeling that I’m sure is likely shared by other trans people in the area. Will someone still be watching out for us? In a way we are fortunate. Both mayoral candidates Charlie Hales and Jefferson Smith appear to be very strong allies of LGBTQ people. Both Hales and Smith have actively worked on campaigns or projects in the past that directly improved our well-being and both appear to support recent transgender-specific policies.

Indeed, after viewing the material from both campaigns, I’m looking at two very impressive trans allies. Choosing the better candidate may involve a bit of hair splitting.

Both Hales and Smith agreed to provide a statement for transgender readers of Just Out at Courtney O’Donnell’s request. (Edited for length.)


I am proud to have been involved in the LGBT movement for years. When I was City Commissioner, I joined my colleagues in establishing one of the nation’s early domestic partner registries. This was at the time when the first anti-gay ballot measures were sweeping our state around issues of local anti-discrimination laws. I volunteered on both the first Measure 9 and Measure 13 op- position campaigns. I have long supported marriage equality. In addition, I fully support the City Council’s action last year to extend health benefits to city workers to include sexual reassignment surgery.

Looking forward, I will be an active part of the public education campaign and advocacy campaign to bring marriage equality to our state, and will be an outspoken advocate as Mayor for the freedom to marry for all caring and committed couples. I will take steps to combat HIV-related stigma — we still live in a city where 1 in 4 people living with HIV don’t know they are infected, in large part because of attitudes attached to a positive diagnosis. I will use the public nature of the Mayor’s office to bring awareness and help direct the public towards available testing ser- vices. I will advocate for continued state fund- ing for state health programs that support HIV/ AIDS patients.

I will also work with our public safety bureaus to continue to better reflect our community, including LGBT members of the force. We need to continue to ensure safety of openly gay couples and social interactions by acting definitively when hate crimes have been committed, threats are issued or safety is at all in question. The City, as an employer and a provider of services, will be a welcoming culture for GLBT persons where workplace discrimination will not be tolerated and high quality customer service will be provided to every resident alike.


Look to the issues (where we’ll both be pretty good) and to who’s been in the trenches with you for the last decade. I stood with the LGBTQ community in my work in the house, supporting anti-bullying legislation. The organization I founded, the Bus Project, has knocked on tens of thousands of doors for marriage equality, supported safe spaces on college campuses & trans- inclusive health care. Leaders I’ve mentored & developed have gone on to service in local and national LGBTQ advocacy organizations and campaigns. I’ll be more than a supporter for your community – I’ll be a champion.

Courtney ODonnell

About Courtney O'Donnell

Courtney O'Donnell -- Transgender actress, advocate, and writer; star, 'Lexie Cannes'


  1. what are both of the candidates talking about? They need to get real

  2. So I don’t exactly understand what Sam Adams has done for Portland’s trans community. Laws surronding equal employment and housing were enacted before he was mayor, and the only trans specific legislation he has passed relates solely to city employees. I voted for Sam Adams and despite some controversial decisions I support him and will miss him as mayor, but as transwoman I don’t feel like he has specifically contributed to my or my community’s well being.

    • Courtney ODonnell Courtney ODonnell says:

      Hi Luna, sorry for the delay in responding but thanks for the comments.

      Before becoming mayor, Adams was a city commissioner and before that, worked closely with Mayor Vera Katz. While he’s not the only person at city hall that molded Portland into the trans-friendly city that it is today, he certainly had a hand in quite a bit of it. IMO, the high comfort level that many trans people feel about living in Portland have will be tested once Adams is gone. On the plus side, Hales and Smith appear to be good allies and one of them may prove that my worries were for naught.


  1. [...] REPORT — (I wrote this for Just Out. You can read the entire article on the Just Out site: In Transit: Thanks, Sam [...]

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