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Norm_as_toddlerNorman R. Costa was born in Lodi, California, in 1927, the younger of two brothers. His father’s family owned a ranch where both grapes and walnuts were grown. His mother (whose grandfather produced filberts in McMinnville OR) had a professional home, economics degree, and was a staunch Christian Scientist.

Because of his mother’s strict practices, as a child, Norm survived multiple tooth extractions, rheumatic fever (he had to repeat one grade in school because of his absences), and an injury (from jumping out of a treehouse) that permanently shortened one leg, without any medical care whatsoever. However, his parents did worry that the leg injury would make him awkward, so they sent him to dance lessons. He also saw a speech therapist, and as far as Norm can recall he was the first youngster in Lodi to have braces on his teeth.

Norm’s mother later reported that he was a gentle child who loved to play in the back yard. She described occasions on which hummingbirds came right up to him and flew around his head. Norm’s own recollection of his grade school years is that he was “off in his own world.” When some bullies called him names and started to fight him for wearing his coat up around his neck like a cape, Norman used his fast reaction time to protect himself and knock down the ringleader. Years later this man apologized and asked Norm out on a date.

formal_military_school_photoFor high school Norman attended New Mexico Military Institute, where he participated in track and wrestling. Each summer he worked in the walnut orchards alongside a team of farm workers, pounding the branches of walnut trees with a rubber mallet to make the nuts fall down. in_uniform_with_brother

Norman enlisted in the US Navy in 1945 and served as a Seaman First Class, primarily on the USS West Virginia (BB-48) as it traveled back and forth across the Pacific, bringing troops back home from Hawaii to all the West Coast ports.  On one occasion while Norm was cleaning and oiling the 5” guns, a shipmate accidentally turned on the electricity, and Norm was electrocuted and thrown across the turret. (The shipmate faced a court martial for this error.) He occasionally dated other servicemen, but always discreetly and off the ship.

mid_cal_stockersBack in civilian life, Norman attended College of the Pacific on the G. I. Bill. He came out publicly as gay in 1947 and by 1948 had “lost all my straight friends”. In those same years, many of his closeted friends took their own lives (eight in 1948 alone). Meanwhile Norm had founded a group called Mid Cal Stockers, recognized by the California Highway Patrol for “taking racing off the roadways onto drag strips” where it could be done more safely.

norm_costa_leaning_backNorman planned to transfer from the Central Valley to San Francisco State College but ended up in San Francisco, partying and driving an ambulance (which couldn’t go up the steep hills, so he had to drive it around the sides of the hills). Norm recalls bringing at least one of his lovers home to Lodi to meet his parents. Unfortunately, when the lover came out to his own parents, they “put him in the insane asylum in Stockton” for the weekend. As soon as he was released on Monday Norm and he headed back to the big city.

During these years he mostly supported himself working in factories that made machinery and chemicals, including Food Machinery Corporation and Collier Carbon Chemical. In San Francisco of the fifties the chief gay bars were 47 Golden Gate Ave. and Kino’s. In 1957 Norman helped to open the Tool Box, an early Levi-and-leather bar.

In 1958 Norman moved to Oregon. In order to spend more time with his partner, Richard Smith, Norm switched from manufacturing to hairdressing and learned how to do a permanent wave. Their salon, “Richard and Norman’s”, later “Norman’s” alone, was a leading salon in Lake Oswego from 1961 through 1993.He had many clients who were members of the country club at Dunthorpe, including the mother-in-law of Roger Martin, Speaker of the Republican-controlled State Senate. Roger admitted to Norm that he prevented the Senate from blocking Goldsmith’s pro-gay legislation, so that the public could vote instead, partly because he didn’t want to get in trouble with “all the old ladies” who went to Norman to have their hair done. As a result, Oregon voters had their first chance to openly express support for gay rights.

norm_at_MC_churchNorman began attending Metropolitan Community Church Portland soon after it was founded. Today, looking at the garden outside the church, he says, “I find the joy of nature outside and my faith fulfilled inside.” In the 1970s Norman played a central role in a Town Hall meeting, aired on ABC Channel Two, during which the LGBTQ community and the “Christian right” aired their differences. My response shocked them all! “I WILL pray for you brother.” Today MCC Portland continues its educational outreach through Community of Welcoming Congregations and its dialogue with the Mars Hill church planting project in Portland.

Dogfish_Sound_mobile_truckWith another partner, audio engineer Drew Canulette, Norman co-owned Dogfish Sound from 1983 to 1993. Their Dogfish mobile truck recorded several bands from the heyday of grunge rock, including Nirvana, and Emmy nominated Soundgarden.  Norm handled the business side but occasionally had special field duties; for example, it was his job to grab and safeguard the expensive microphones near the end of any concert for which Drew expected that the band members would destroy their instruments or trash the stage.

Against_hate_crimes_holocaust_memorialNorman’s final “day job” was with Yamhill Public Health Department, 1994-2010, where he worked as an HIV prevention educator and facilitator of HIV Rapid Testing. His official role was “HIV Prevention, Rapid Testing & Outreach”. The Department was having problems finding anyone who would be willing to speak frankly about HIV prevention and Norm volunteered. Then it grew into a paid position. Norm was able to convince many people to be tested, who had concerns about confidentiality.

While having worked for Yamhill County, Norm was also recognized with the “Spirit of Portland Award” for Community Harmony in 2008.  This acknowledgement comes from Norm’s commitment to the Portland community, his proven techniques, and his willingness to share.

caricature_by_BensonIt’s clear now, Norm’s life ambition is to do more community work. As an advocate for justice and health and safety, a crusader against hate crimes, supportive of our public servants and making sure they hear from the community, and as a Christian networker, he worked “to protect people who can’t help themselves.” Often working behind the scenes, but taking public positions when he felt it was necessary to do so, he helped develop coalitions between many different parts of the community.

It is difficult to do justice to Norman’s ongoing activism in many areas, but a summary listing of his recent and ongoing community work would have to include:

  • Past Co Chair, Portland Police Bureau Chief’s Forum
    Past Co Chair and current active member Portland Police Sexual Minority Roundtable
    Steering Committee member, Coalition Against Hate Crimes
  • Past President and Board Member, Veterans For Human Rights
  • Board member for 16 years, Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network of Oregon (GLSEN)

Other efforts and initiatives of interest:

  • 1994 – 1999 Yamhill County member Title 1 HIV Services Planning Council
  • 1995 Advisory Board HIV Day Center
  • Started Title1 food program clients in Yamhill County
  • 1996 Advisor/Mentor Counter Balance, Yamhill County’s first LGBTQ Support group
  • Transported McMinnville High School Students to the first LGBTQ Student Conference at Oregon State University
  • 1995/1999 HIV Prevention for Marion Family Court Detention Center assisting juvenile offenders from Marion, Lincoln, Polk, and Yamhill Counties
  • 1999-2004 Pride Northwest Outreach and Sponsorship
  • 1988 Oregon Pacific AREA Health Education Center, Chair Legislative Committee
  • 1988 Workshop for Yamhill CASA covering how to place GLBTQ youth in a safe foster home
  • Presented at VOMA Conference 2001 breakout session “Responding to Hate Crimes Restoratively” (18th annual Victim-offender Mediation Conference)
  • April 2002 Docent at Anne Frank exhibit
  • 2002 Oregon Hate Crimes Conference Eugene Oregon
  • Moderated committee for Sexual Minority Understanding2006 Planning Committee for the Oregon Hate Crimes Conference
  • 2011 Planning Committee for Central City Concern Portland Area Stand-down
  • 2008 Spirit of Portland Award for Community Harmony presented by Commissioner Fish

Other certificates of appreciation received include:

  • (2000) Outstanding Service, Yamhill County Juvenile Facility while in charge of HIV prevention, advocating for our youth.
  • (2000) Completion of Portland Police Bureau’s Community Policing Academy
  • (2001) Portland Police Bureau Chief’s Forum promoting the Community Policing effort
  • (2001-2003) Portland Police Bureau Chief’s Forum Co-Chair
  • (2002) Portland Police Bureau’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Racial Profiling
  • (2006) Brother To Brother Hall of Fame & Honor
  • (2008) Portland Police Bureau for service, participation, leadership and support as member of the Portland Police Bureau’s Chief’s Forum
  • Spirit of Portland Award 2008 for Community Harmony, City of Portland, awarded for HIV prevention through Ryan White, Title 1.