In 1982, Portland runners Keaston Lowery and Kenny Davis attended the Gay Games in San Francisco, an event dedicated to celebrating the LGBTQ+ community in sport. It was there that Keaston and Kenny discovered Frontrunners, a San Francisco and New York City-based running group for the gay community. Inspired by what they saw, Keaston and Kenny returned to Portland and launched their own Frontrunners non-profit organization. Forty years on, Portland Frontrunners’ current president, Jordan Washington, shares how the city’s LGBTQ+ community running club has blossomed.
Portland Frontrunners is a space for people within the queer community. There are still a lot of barriers for the LGBTQ+ community when accessing sports, due to ongoing social stigma. We provide opportunities for people to enjoy positive interactions and encourage people to be more physically active. Having a space where the LGBTQ+ community can be who they truly are is hugely valuable.
We currently hold four regular events in different parts of the city. Our Tuesday evening run starts at a track in southwest Portland and is a five-mile route that goes up and down a hill. After this run, we go for dinner or drinks. Our Saturday morning run or walk takes us around the Portland Waterfront, where people can choose either a two-and-a half mile or four-and-a-half mile option [without having to] stop at street crossings or for traffic. More recently, we launched a Sunday trail run that takes people into Forest Park next to the downtown area. Finally, on Thursdays, we have a track session with a coach, where runners can work on specific goals, such as becoming a faster runner, maintaining endurance or working up to a marathon.
People can take part in any run or walk by just showing up. While we offer an annual members program, membership isn’t required to participate in our regular runs. However, our annual membership does provide benefits. For example, our Thursday coaching sessions are subsidized through the membership fund, and we organize member-specific events during the summer months, like monthly happy hours or running trips to different locations around Portland. These events are great bonding opportunities for people to get to know each other better. Most importantly, we want to help lower any barriers that might make running inaccessible to the community. So, if one of our members is experiencing financial hardship, we ask them to talk to us and we will cover any race entry fees they might need.
Witnessing people’s personal growth is most rewarding to me. I see a lot of members transition from not being a regular runner, to developing a genuine love for it. We celebrate people’s achievements – whether that’s taking part in community races or beating their personal records – in our monthly newsletter and on our social media pages. By highlighting these achievements, we give our runners the motivation to set new goals.
This year is Portland Frontrunners’ 40th anniversary. We are recognizing those 40 years by talking to past presidents about their individual experiences and bringing our history to life. Our annual event, the Portland Pride Run and Walk, takes place on June 18, 2022 on the Portland Waterfront. We are also developing a committee for underrepresented groups – particularly for women, trans and non-binary individuals – so everyone has a voice within the organization. Our goal is to continue enabling Portland’s LGBTQ+ community to enjoy running for the next 40 years.
Find out more about Portland Frontrunners.