Immersed in Portland queer life can feel like we live in a world without straight people, but even here the reality is that we are still a minority. But we are part of the majority of a local community that is accepting, loving, and “has our back.” When I sat down in the Q Center’s library, surrounded by rows upon rows of LGBT themed books, with three straight married couples, nothing was more apparent. It was a feel good moment of the highest order and helped me remember that heterosexuals are part of our community and part of our movement. They are excited to be part of it. They are happy give us their time, money and friendship, and we need them.
I was raised by one of the staunchest allies I know, and during the course of the interview I heard very familiar words coming from the mouths of Mark and Tracy Fenske, Chris and Monica Reed, and Lisa Watson and Peter Shanky, though they themselves are a diverse group of people. Mark and Tracy work in finance. Chris and Monica own A Word in Edgewise eco-printing company and Lisa and Peter own the tasty Cupcake Jones bakery. Different generations, raised in different places and from different religious and ethnic backgrounds, they hold many similar beliefs and had familiar and relatable tales to tell.
One of my mother’s favorite stories is that of her best friend’s coming out to her. When Lisa started palling around with another girl in Jr. High, Jill Hector was angry and hurt. But when she found out it was a love interest all was forgiven. You could be stupid when it came to boys, when it came to a crush, just as long as another BFF wasn’t taking her place.
The six people I sat with at the Q Center also have important gay people in their lives. These early influencers helped lead them into a world where they proudly proclaim they are not just allies, but advocates for LGBT people. Here are their stories…
On how they became involved.
Lisa Watson: My first friend to die of AIDS died in 1987. I did my first AIDS Walk shortly after and became an activist.
Chris Reed: I was hijacked. My best friend turned us onto PABA (the Portland Area Business Association for gay and gay-friendly businesses). It was the first time I had gone to a business meeting that I enjoyed.
Tracy Fenske: We just have a lot of close family and friends. It’s just the right thing to do. It’s kind of weird to be interviewed for something that’s just part of our lives.
Mark Fenske: I always joke that we’ve been married for eleven years, have no kids, love to travel and enjoy good wine. Who do you think our friends are?
Lisa and Peter (in unison): That sounds really familiar.
Mark: I’m convinced we’re the gay couple from Modern Family. It’s your task to figure out who is who.
Tracy: He would be the one who went to clown college.
On mistaken identity, alternative sexuality, lesbros and more.
Lisa: Peter has a twin brother who is gay. We had more than a few people that couldn’t figure out the relationship because they would see Dustin out with his partner and Peter out with me and didn’t know they were two different men. What was eye opening to me was that there were so many people in the gay community that wanted to figure us out or label our sexuality. What if there were three of us all together? So what?
Tracy: I’ve had straight girlfriends tell me I need to watch Mark because he is on the down low and having affairs at networking events. But all of our gay friends love me more than him so I’m fine. And these are people that have known us for years.
Chris: Oh and I’m a lesbro. Let’s not forget that.
Tracy: [Mark’s] a lesbro too.
Chris: Oh yeah, but not to my level.
Mark: You’ve got a few years on me. When I’m your age…
Tracy: …you’ll have groupies.
Chris: You will. I’ve got groupies.
Mark: Trying not to picture that.
On the first gay person that they met.
Peter Shanky: As I have a close family member that’s gay I’ve been involved as long as I can remember. As a business owner it’s grown.
Lisa: I was in drama club in high school but it was also Catholic school so none of them came out until much later.
Mark: I’ve had a good friend since kindergarten. It may be cliché but I had GI Joes and he had Barbie dolls. Didn’t make him any less my friend.
Tracy: I grew up in a town of 300 where we all knew each other and had last names that ended in “ski.” So I didn’t meet anyone until we moved to the “big city” of 30,000. I had out friends in high school. I was about 200 lbs at the time so they were bullied because they were gay and I was bullied because of that. We bonded over it.
Chris: I’ve got a few years on you but I did know some in high school, although to be called queer was the worst thing imaginable then. When I became a merchant seaman in the Navy, that’s when I ran into real gay people. Everything was cool and I was only about 18. When I got back to New York we had that Christopher Street thing. It was a turning point.
Monica Reed: My best friend in Jr. High was gay. He passed away from AIDS when he was 35. And I’ve worked with kids my whole career so I see the bullying and put downs that go on.
On the most important issues facing the gay community.
Chris: Safety. The issue that bothers me the most is what is happening to young people, the suicides, the risks. Children are our responsibility. I don’t care of they are not my biological kids. As a human being on this planet we have a responsibility to keep our children safe. All our children.
Tracy: And to raise children that know it’s not okay to hate.
Peter: Marriage equality is important too. It’s a symbol of equality overall.
Lisa: It’s a bigger issue here but access to healthcare for transgendered people is important too. We all need access. These are symbols of bigger issues.
On activism and advocacy.
Chris: You need to get out there and advocate. Just joining PABA or throwing a check at the Q Center is not enough.
Tracy: I’ve taken it upon myself to educate my family. My father was very [homophobic] but his first trip to Portland we took him to CC [Slaughters] and he loved everyone. My farmer father supposedly never met a gay person until his 60s, but that’s all it took to turn him around.
Mark: When I was a kid I was sarcastic and chubby so I really know what it’s like to be picked on. I identify with that. When any one group of people is made to feel less-than or discriminated against it sets me going. There’s really only one group left that it’s “okay” to do that to and it’s wrong. In a generation we’ll look back at that and know it’s stupid but until then [my advocacy] has to continue.
Peter: We would do what we do here anywhere and in another city we might be considered activists but here we’re just Portlanders.
Lisa: We donate a percentage of sales to non-profits and probably 70% of that goes to LGBT or AIDS related causes. It was kind of scary knowing that might alienate some of our customer base but the reward has been well worth anything we might have lost.
On what else keeps them busy.
Peter: CAP. Our House. P:ear. Red Dress Party.
Chris: Q Center. HRC. BRO. GLSEN. I’m passionate about that one because it’s for the kids. We donate to all sorts of organizations but to LGBT ones the most. And I get business from this community. I didn’t start out with the great idea to create change. A friend told me if you get involved in this community you will have the most loyal customers you’ve ever had. He was right.
Lisa: At a marketing class given by Travel Portland about marketing to the LGBT community, they said that people will recognize if you’re authentic, if you’re doing it just for the business or if you really support these causes. It rang true to me.
Tracy: It’s hard to break into this community. You have to really be there and do your part, be a voice, have personal relationships.
Mark: When we first moved here we didn’t know anyone and just wanted to meet like-minded people. This community was welcoming, and growing my busines was just a great byproduct.
Tracy: These people have become more than friends. They’re our family.
About Alley Hector
Alley Hector is proud to be a Q, a PDXer and Just Out's Editor-in-Chief.