Sunday, September 30, 2007

Why I left the South - or better yet - Why I love the Northwest!

I'm one step closer to completing my Masters in Library and Information Science. Each quarter I journey up to Seattle for a few days to meet my instructors and fellow students in each class. The rest of my coursework is done via the computer so I can stay home in the awesome but wet city of Portland.
If logisticaly possible I take Amtrak up, use a taxi to the hotel and then the hotel shuttle back to the train station. It's longer than driving, but easier on the nerves and the environment.
After spending two days will my fellow student librarians I felt energized and refreshed. The cohort is progressive, diverse, and dedicated to life-long learning. Not unlike the attitudes generally encountered in the Pacific NorthWest. Sometimes it's easy to forget there are other people out there that don't see things so clearly. Segue to my shuttle back to the train terminal.

I was seated in the back of the shuttle van next to a couple. The smells of perfume and after shave were choking, but soon my tender bronchials adjusted to the irritation. The woman's hands boasted the most gawdy jewerly, jangling bracelets, huge stones mounted in audacious settings, and manicured colored nails. Her face and hair matched, curled and shelaced in to place as if she expected a hurricaine. Her husband was quiet, stiff and austere. They whispered to each other in thick Southern accents as each landmark passed. I cogenially asked where they were from. Birmingham, Al. So I told them my Southern connections in Kentucky and Florida. They warmed to me, making numerous asumptions regarding my principles and beliefs. As we discussed what things they should visit while in Seattle the conversation veered further South, to San Fran. Apparently this was their previous vacation destination. I talked about some of the things I enjoyed in San Fran at which point the woman commented that, "I didn't like the city - there were too many homeless and gays". I wanted to say that she might as well know that there are in fact homeless AND gays in Seattle too - so maybe they should just bag it and head back to good 'ol Alabama. But I bit my tongue, which is now bleeding from the effort. And as usual I regret letting an opportunity to educate pass through my fingers. I mean seriously, I have a shaved head, I wear outdoor gear so few people miss the fact that I'm a lesbian, or at least bi. I must admit it caught me off guard. I felt like the deer in the headlights. This is the NorthWest. We're working real hard here to help the homeless and both tolerate and accept those that arent' exactly like us, regardless of what Leviticus says.
So it was a reminder of why I love this place and the main reason I hated living in the South. I was very active in the GLBT community in central Florida. I remember the heartbreaking stories. Men raped by supposedly straight men wanting to "teach" a lesson. Women run off the road and beaten for having a rainbow in the back window of their truck. And when we finally were allowed to fly our rainbow flags during pride month, we spent the month replacing flag after flag after they were burned. It was dangerous just to stand in front of our community center - bags of broken glass and light bulbs were occasional ballistic missiles from passing trucks.
When I first arrived to Portland I tried to find the local community center - there wasn't one then but there is now. When I couldn't find one I looked around. At every event I attended I saw same-sex couples intermingled in the crowd. There was no stares, no jeering, no lightbulbs, no anything. We were just part of the crowd. And sometimes it's nice to just be part of the crowd. So if you're a Southerner and planning your gay and homeless free itenerary, please mark Portland off you list of possibilities, we don't need that bigoted hatred here. Maybe you should visit Birmingham (or Iran) I hear they don't tolerate that kind of nonsense there.

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