Oregon gay rights leader Jerry Weller dies at age 69
Jerry Weller — a pioneering and proudly "out" activist who lead lobbying efforts for gay rights both on the local and national level — has died. He was 69.
Named "Portland's Gay Man of the Year" in 1981 and a "Queer Hero" in 2012, Weller served as executive director of Portland Town Council, the first organization dedicated to LGBTQ advocacy at the state capitol in Salem and across Oregon.
As the mainstream face of the movement, Weller sparred with evangelists on the television news and brought gay speakers before the old guard at the City Club of Portland. Portland Town Council laid the foundation for today's gay rights organizations such as Basic Rights Oregon, friends say.
"Jerry deserves all the credit he can get. Oregon is a vastly better place because of him," said Susie Shepherd, who worked as an administrative assistant for Portland Town Council. "It was like the greatest job in the world working with Jerry. Every moment of every day was so exciting."
Shepherd recalls how Weller worked to educate lawmakers about discrimination and ran a successful campaign to elect a sympathetic family law judge to the Multnomah County bench. He also had the bright idea to bring a "beer truck" to one of Portland's first Pride Parades in 1978, vastly boosting attendance.
Longtime friend and former Multnomah County chairwoman Beverly Stein said Weller fought for equal rights under the law at a time when being openly homosexual was "scary."
"It wasn't fair, it wasn't right — and he knew it. He was really brave enough to speak out, because at that point a lot of people were still in the closet," she recalled. "He was a model to a lot of people as an out-front, courageous gay man."
Gerald K. Weller was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and became a lifelong Nittany Lions football fan after he graduated from Penn State University in 1970. He received his masters in journalism from Roosevelt University in 1986.
In 1983, Weller left Oregon to accept the leadership position of the Gay Rights National Lobby in Washington, D.C., now known as the Human Rights Campaign Fund. In 1984, he moved to Chicago to direct the Howard Brown Memorial Clinic, which at that time was the largest health center serving gay men during the early years of the AIDS crisis.
Weller returned to the Rose City in 1986 after his partner, Bruce Muller, was stricken with AIDS. He continued to care for his companion until Muller's death in 1991.
In his later years, Jerry worked for the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, Oregon Health Division and the civil rights division of the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries. His retirement in 2007 allowed him to sit on the board of the Oregon chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and to edit City Week, a local weekly focused on gay issues.
He also co-founded the Right To Privacy PAC.
Weller lived with an AIDS diagnosis, surviving for many years until his kidneys and heart began to fail. He died on Sunday, July 8 in Portland while surrounded by friends.
He was an avid gardener, no slouch in the kitchen and loved watching soap operas, football and political talk shows.
"He was forthright about his beliefs, needs and thoughts but never was without a sense of humor," according to Weller's obituary. "He was admired as a courageous early advocate for gay rights who connected his commitment to action."
A memorial will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. on Aug. 25 at the Metropolitan Community Church, 2400 N.E. Broadway, officiated by the Rev. Troy Perry from Los Angeles.