George T. Nicola was born and raised in Canton, Ohio. In 1967, he earned a bachelor’s in history at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio. Following graduation, George crossed the country to settle in Portland in 1968. Inspired by the courage and call to action by John Wilkinson who, through the Willamette Bridge newspaper, called for the formation of the Portland Gay Liberation Front in February of 1970, George came out and became an activist calling for gay equality and acceptance in Oregon.
George’s earliest seminal achievement was the writing and lobbying for Oregon’s first bill that aimed to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. HB 2930, introduced in 1973, had 17 sponsors and bipartisan support but failed House passage by just 2 votes short of a majority. The process of working for the bill helped create a sense of purpose and identity that fostered the growth of what would become Oregon’s LGBTQ movement. The process also helped create numerous straight cisgender allies who would become increasingly influential in the following years. These included citizen advocate Barbara Roberts who later became governor; Oregon Rep. Vera Katz who later became Oregon House Speaker and then Portland mayor; Oregon Rep. Mary Wendy Roberts who later became Oregon Commissioner of Labor; Oregon Rep. Stephen Kafoury who was later elected to the Oregon Senate; Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer who later became a U.S. Representative; and women’s rights lobbyist Gretchen Kafoury who later became a Portland City Commissioner.
George promoted gay rights on numerous television and radio shows in the 1970s, becoming an important public face for gay rights in Oregon, writing gay-themed articles for several newspapers, speaking in front of numerous groups, as well as appearing on both television and radio.
George had to retire from gay politics in 1974 to establish a paying career. Starting in 2010 after retirement, George began documenting the history of the Oregon LGBTQ movement, primarily through working with GLAPN, the Pacific Northwest’s LGBTQ history organization.
Over the years, George found that if the people he wrote about won awards, the public was more likely to read about them. Since 2012, George has nominated approximately 400 individuals and groups, mostly LGBTQ people and their allies, for public awards. This year alone (2018), George has submitted over 80 nominations.
George has written numerous articles about LGBTQ politics and culture. He has worked with the Oregon State Bar, Oregon Public Broadcasting, and Oregon Health Science University; his research has been used in both written and oral arguments for the two federal lawsuits that brought marriage equality to Oregon. George’s writing has included the full LGBTQ+ array, including LGBTQ+ people of all colors. For his historical writing, George has never been paid, but he has won a number of public recognitions, including the City of Portland’s prestigious Spirit of Portland Award.
Today we are recognizing George as Oregon’s LGBTQ Community Historian for his contributions in documenting Oregon LGBTQ history. George is bringing to light what would otherwise be a history overshadowed by the standard, less-inclusive narratives in our state. This is not an easy task, but rather one that takes dedication, fortitude and a devotion to justice. And for this, we as one Oregon community, are indebted to him for his work.
Look for more details soon including ways that YOU can support!