All Oregonians deserve to live, work free of the sting of discrimination

July 13, 2007 12:00 am

This piece is about fairness and the elimination of discrimination based on sexual orientation, but it's not directly about me. So first I'd like to introduce myself.

I graduated from La Grande High School 55 years ago. My dad, Louis Samson, was a Presbyterian minister. He moved our family from Lakeview to La Grande in 1947. After high school, I attended Eastern Oregon College for 2 1/2 years before joining the Navy in 1955.

I am now a retired corporate attorney living in Portland, happily married for 47 years with two grown daughters and two wonderful grandchildren.

I have always been proud that La Grande is my "hometown." This year is our 55th year high school reunion and, as usual, Gary Webster and his team are orchestrating a bang-up time for us later this month.

When I was growing up in La Grande in the late 1940s and '50s, I didn't know any homosexuals — at least I thought I didn't. Since that time, both socially and in the workplace, I have become acquainted with many gays and lesbians and have learned firsthand about the prejudice and discrimination they experience in their work and family life.

Last year I was appointed to the Governor's Task Force on Equality, which focused on the serious impact of discrimination based on sexual orientation. We held hearings in four Oregon communities: Bend, Lincoln City, Portland and Medford. We heard that, indeed, such discrimination has had a devastating impact on the lives, jobs and families of many Oregonians. That is why I was so happy and relieved to see the Oregon Legislature pass a new law this session outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation and, in a separate law, permitting same-sex couples to enter into "domestic partnerships."

While such partnerships do not provide all the benefits of marriage, they do provide a way for committed same-sex couples to protect and care for the people they love.

Unfortunately, in Oregon as in every society, there are those who still want to divide us. An effort has already begun to collect the necessary signatures to put these laws on the ballot and attempt to overturn them. I will not be signing these petitions, and I urge you not to either.

In Oregon, we all deserve to be judged based on our actions as good citizens, parents, coworkers, sons, daughters and neighbors.

As I head back to my hometown of La Grande this year, I hope that my fellow classmates and their families have had the same fair chance that I have had to realize their hopes and dreams, keep their loved ones safe and live and work free from the sting of discrimination.

That's the Oregon I want us all to be able to call home.

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Bruce Samson is former general counsel of Pacific Northwest Bell and Northwest Natural Gas and a leading Oregon businessman. He is currently participating in a statewide alliance of community leaders advocating for equality, called "50 Voices" at www.50voicesforequality.com.