No gay metropolis, but accepting nonetheless

Gay Salem

Scott Hossner at Allied Video Productions. Photo by Frank Miller.

Scott Hossner is a lifelong Salem resident, a Sprague High School graduate who went off to college but chose to return to his hometown — a choice that led to him becoming a successful business owner and respected community member.

But a lunch at Kwan’s with his boss almost 20 years ago could have drastically changed his story, could have sent him packing to some place like Seattle or San Francisco.

Hossner asked his boss, Tom Marks, to join him for lunch to tell him something personal: that he is gay. It had no bearing on his work as a producer at Allied Video Productions, but Hossner felt Marks needed to know.

It was a big deal considering Marks and many of the company’s clients were politically and religiously conservative. Hossner worried he might lose his job, but he was tired of avoiding the truth.

“I came to a turning point where I was like, ‘I’m either going to stay here in Salem, or I’m going to move on,’ and that was going to be based on how my boss reacted when I came out to him,” Hossner says. “I basically told him, ‘I’d like to continue working for you, but you need to know this about me because it’s relevant to who I am, and it’s important for me to be honest with you about it. If you don’t want me to continue working with you, now is the time I need to know that.’”

And then he waited.

“I appreciate your honesty,” Marks answered. “I had no idea. But I think it’s completely irrelevant, and of course I want you to keep working for me.”

Hossner wondered whether the words were true, whether their work environment would change.

“Three weeks later, he gave me a promotion and a raise — they were unrelated and probably coming anyway. But he really walked the talk. … He ended up pulling me aside another 10 years later and asked me if I wanted to buy the business, along with two other employees.

“If he hadn’t been so accepting, that would have been a turning point. I would have probably either been fired or quit once I found another job, and it probably wouldn’t have been in Salem.”

Hossner likes to tell this story because he believes it to be a prime example of his experiences as a gay person in Salem. Of course, not everyone is as accepting as his former boss — someone once yelled “fag” at him when he hugged a male friend on a street corner, and during one election, an anonymous person continually stole pro-gay signs from his yard.

But most of his 40-some years here — including the last 20 since he officially came out — have been positive. So much so that he embraces The Advocate’s recent ranking of Salem as gay-friendly.

“Is Salem a gay metropolis? By no stretch,” he says. “But I’ve found it to be a very gay-friendly town. … I’ve never felt like I’ve had to worry about acknowledging who I am.

“People should take that list with a grain of salt, but I don’t think it’s completely off-base. It’s not like we’re a homophobic city that has no place on a list like that. … We’ve got a nice little gay community here.”

Is Salem a gay metropolis? By no stretch. But I’ve found it to be a very gay-friendly town.

Hossner knows quite a few people, both gay and straight, in this community. He and his associates at Allied Video run an award-winning business that counts the SalemConferenceCenter, Travel Oregon and numerous other high-profile Salem organizations among its clients. Hossner also recently served on the board for Basic Rights Oregon for four years — and he was the only non-Portlander in the bunch.

Like many, he finds some of The Advocate’s “gay cities” criteria amusing. He’s never considered roller derby to be “gay,” and he jokes that Salem should have gotten a “fabulous shopping” point for Trader Joe’s.

But if he was writing the survey, he would examine other, more realistic indicators — many of which are present in Salem.

For instance, Salem has its own LGBT chorus, Confluence, and two gay softball teams, the Speakeasy Saints and S.O.S. Hossner played on the Saints a few summers ago. “We were terrible,” he says, “but we were the best dressed.”

Salem did get a point for having transgender protections — a point that makes Hossner proud. He testified at the meeting when the city council voted to prohibit discrimination against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It was in 2002 — the same year New York City adopted a similar protection, and five years before the state of Oregon followed suit.

Hossner also revels in the fact that The Advocate’s list overlooks a certain city to the north.

“Probably my biggest complaint about Oregon is the attitude of Portlanders sometimes that only Portland is cool, and only Portland has interesting things going on, and only Portland is gay-friendly,” he says. “Salem is not the ugly stepchild of Portland in every sense of the word. You can have a fulfilling gay life with lots of community and friends and associates in this town.”

Writer Sarah Evans is co-editor of Salem Is. 

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