PHOTO STORY: An Advocate for Change

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July 28, 2013 — No stranger to political protests, Harriet Merrick has seen her share of rallies and is familiar with the challenges of fighting for human rights. As an activist Merrick has never limited herself to one demographic but instead has gone where she sees a need; from fighting for educational rights for migrant farm workers to assisting injured students at a Vietnam War rally. Through her experiences she has mastered evading the riot squad’s flying v-wedge by circling back around after being split up and is equally adept at circumventing a journalist’s tricky questions. She has been in the activist’s arena for as long as she can remember but it wasn’t until working for the State of Oregon that she became involved with something that was closer to home.

In 1987, Oregon Governor Neil Goldschmidt, had given an executive order banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in the executive department of state government. The following year the Oregon Citizens Alliance, a right wing conservative Christian political activist organization, sponsored Measure 8, an initiative that overturned Goldschmidt’s order and put a statute on the books that prohibited job protection for gay people in state government. As an employee of the state and an out lesbian, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, Merrick was the plaintiff in a case challenging Measure 8. They won. The Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that Measure 8 violated state constitutional guarantees of free speech.

On fighting for any right Merrick says, “It doesn’t matter if you don’t win in the beginning because the reality is people can shut their eyes but they cannot shut their ears.” She goes on to say, “It may be a day, it may be a week, it may be a month, it may be ten years but something has a possibility of germinating and clicking.”

Merrick continues to advocate for gay rights most recently joining the fight for marriage equality as a spokesperson for Basic Rights Oregon’s, Oregon United For Marriage campaign. Their goal is to add a constitutional amendment to the 2014 ballot that would allow marriage equality for all Oregonian’s. On Friday, July 26 Merrick joined hundreds of volunteers in a state-wide effort to collect the 116,284 signatures required to get the measure on the ballot. She will continue to fight in the hopes of Oregon becoming a state where gays and lesbians can legally marry.

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