Beaudoin, Executive Director of PHAME Academy, Runs for MESD

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Beaudoin image By Matt Pizzuti, PQ Monthly An openly gay Portland man is challenging an incumbent for a countywide seat on the Multnomah Education Service District board this spring. Stephen Marc Beaudoin, Executive Director of a local nonprofit that serves adults with developmental disabilities, PHAME, is running against incumbent Doug Montgomery for a 4-year term of Director At-large Position 6.  A third candidate, Colby Ross Clipston, is also running in the May 19 election. “I hope that I earn people’s consideration,†Beaudoin said, with particular acknowledgement for PQ Monthly’s readership: “Sexual orientation is not itself a qualification for public office, but my experience and record is. I have brought diverse coalitions together to get things done.†He said he’s unable to see what impact the incumbent, who is his chief opponent, has on the board and its resulting policies, vowing that he would do more to engage the community if he got a chance to fill the role. Beaudoin grew up in what he called a “scrappy, hardscrabble family†in Independence, Missouri, the youngest of four children in a lower-middle income household where both parents worked. “Public education was my way up,†he said. “Those teachers saw potential in a very hyperactive, smart little kid, and it was through public schools that I was able to move forward and achieve things.†As a child Beaudoin befriended a boy with Down Syndrome, explaining that at that time he didn’t understand his friend to be any different than anyone else. It was only when the boys reached adolescence that Beaudoin realized their lives would go in very different directions, something that forever changed the way he’d view disability, he said. “I’ve really developed an affinity and a love for people with disabilities reaching their potential,†Beaudoin said. “If you look at the landscape of racial equality, LGBT equality, or gender equality, disabilities are often left out of the conversations.†Beaudoin attended Paseo Academy, a magnet art and performance high school in Kansas City, and went to college at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. Beaudoin is a singer by training, but said he searched for ways that working in music could have a greater impact on people’s lives, ultimately seeking out opportunities that combine what he calls his three passions: arts, social justice, and education. That combination is exactly his role as executive director of PHAME, a Portland nonprofit to enrich the lives of adults with developmental disabilities through art. “Although I run a nonprofit dedicated to lifelong learning, I’m not running as the education expert,†he said. “Though I do bring specialized knowledge in special education and people with disabilities. I’m running on my values and beliefs, and on my strong track record as a nonprofit executive and a community leader in Portland for nearly a decade.†But Beaudoin said he’s the most driven to get involved in situations that seem to be in disarray. "MESD is clearly at a crossroads, and an agency in need of fresh vision and change. RIght now it’s messy and problematic and many people have lost hope, and I believe my experience and values are what's needed to move through this crisis and move forward,†he said. “That’s part of what’s exciting — the opportunity to turn things around.†On that note — and with Beaudoin in the race as an openly gay candidate for an institution that has recently been at the center of controversy over claims of anti-gay harassment and bullying — it’s hard to avoid bringing up Brett Bigham, the openly gay MESD Special Ed teacher and Oregon’s Teacher of the Year who was fired April 3 after filing official complaints with the state about his supervisors’ treatment towards him. Beaudoin did not speculate what might have gone on outside the public eye between Bigham and top administrators in the service district, but had sympathy for Bigham going through a very trying time in his life, and who was up against a power structure that Beaudoin believed had made some missteps. “Brett is a very talented educator, and there are many reasons he has been so lauded and received recognition for his work. I’m an openly gay man like Brett and I understand and have experienced the anguish of not knowing if you’re going to be able to keep your job or do it well because of who you are. What I know, talking to employees, is there’s a lot of fear in the district right now, and a lack of trust between senior management and staff.†Beaudoin called it a state of crisis. “Look at the litany of HR issues, like the case of Mr. Bigham, for example. That is but one example of some of the concerns and questions that have been raised.†The service district also recently parted ways with Superintendent Barbara Jorgensen, to which Beaudoin said, “Most would say that’s long overdue.†“The agency has been in the news for all the wrong reasons,†he said. “The first order of business is restoring trust and faith in the agency.†“I am openly gay, I have been since I was 13, before the advent of GSAs, and I won’t stand for an organization that discriminates. I will be a champion for issues of equity, diversity and inclusion, so every parent, staff member, teacher and student feels welcome and part of the conversation.â€