Blog Posts Related to the LGBT Community

  • Honoring Harvey Milk Champions of Change

    Harvey Milk Champions of Change, 5.24.13

    Stuart Milk, nephew of Harvey Milk and Founder of the Milk Foundation, with seven of the Harvey Milk Champions of Change, May 22, 2013 (photo courtesy of the Office of Public Engagement). May 24, 2013. (by Office of Public Engagement)

    Earlier this week, the White House honored ten openly LGBT elected or appointed officials as “Harvey Milk Champions of Change.”  The event took place on May 22nd – Harvey Milk's birthday – and was intended to pay tribute to Harvey Milk’s life, leadership, and legacy.

    Established in 2011, the White House Champions of Change program regularly spotlights Americans who are doing extraordinary things for their community, their country, and their fellow citizens.  The ten LGBT officials honored as Harvey Milk Champions were chosen for their strong commitment to both equality and public service.

    In the words of Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President, “When President Obama posthumously awarded Harvey Milk the Medal of Freedom in 2009, he praised his leadership and courage in running for office.  Today, we honor Harvey Milk’s legacy in these ten outstanding public servants, who will surely inspire the next generation of public servants.”

    The following individuals were honored as Harvey Milk Champions of Change:

    • Simone Bell, Georgia State Representative (Atlanta, GA)
    • Angie Buhl O'Donnell, South Dakota State Senator (Sioux Falls, SD)
    • Karen Clark, Minnesota State Representative (South Minneapolis, MN)
    • Michael Gin, Mayor of Redondo Beach (Redondo Beach, CA)
    • Kim Coco Iwamoto, Hawaii State Civil Rights Commissioner (Honolulu, HI)
    • John Laird, California Secretary of Natural Resources (Santa Cruz, CA)
    • Ricardo Lara, California State Senator (Long Beach, CA)
    • Kim Painter, Johnson Country Recorder (Iowa City, IA)
    • Chris Seelbach, Cincinnati City Council Member (Cincinnati, OH)
    • Pat Steadman, Colorado State Senator (Denver, CO)

  • Proving them Wrong

    Chris Seelbach

    As a middle-class kid from Kentucky, I moved to Cincinnati, Ohio for college.  When I arrived, I found a city deeply divided on issues of race and sexual orientation.

    Five years prior to my arrival, Cincinnati voters passed perhaps the most anti-gay local law our country has ever seen.  The law, Article XII, denied the city from even considering the inclusion of sexual orientation or gender identity in the housing & workplace non-discrimination law.  A double whammy.  Three years after my arrival, the city erupted into a racial unrest.

    Coming from a family of fighters, I immediately began trying to create change.   While in law school, I helped lead the efforts to repeal Article XII.  We spent two years going door-to-door, having honest conversations with people on the door steps about gay rights.  We said the word “gay.”  We didn't talk about general terms like "equality" and "fairness," but engaged people in why we thought it was wrong to fire someone or deny them housing based solely on who they loved.  These conversations were the catalyst to the successful repeal, the only winning gay-rights initiative in the country in 2004 (a year when 13 states banned marriage equality in their constitutions).

    After my long-term mentor & Vice-Mayor of the City of Cincinnati, David Crowley, was term limited in 2009 and soon thereafter passed away, I decided to run for Council.  All the political experts and insiders said the same thing:  “It’s impossible for you to win: 1) You’re not originally from here; 2) You’re too young; and 3) You’re openly gay.”

    That kind of skepticism has always been my biggest motivation.  I am most motivated by proving to the world that it doesn’t matter: 1) What color your skin is; 2) How much money you make; 3) Where you were born; or 4) Who you love.  If you have good ideas, work really hard & treat people with respect, there are no limits to success.

    And we did prove them wrong!  In 2011, on my first run for political office, I became the first openly gay person elected in Cincinnati, Ohio and the first openly gay man elected in any of the four major cities throughout Ohio.  Since my election, I have lead the efforts to: 1) Extend equal partner health benefits to all city employees; 2) Create an LGBT police & fire liaison; and 3) Make it mandatory for anyone accepting city funding or subsidies to agree, in writing, to an inclusive non-discrimination policy.  These efforts have results in a 19-point increase in the Human Rights Campaign Municipal Equality Index.  And all of these votes were passed by a 9-member Council that consists of 5 African Americans, 3 women and four political parties (Democrats, Republicans, Independents & Charterites).

    My story continues today as we strive to create a city (and a world) where we all feel valued, welcomed and respected.

    Chris Seelbach is a Cincinnati Council Member

  • A Public Service Career with Purpose

    Michael Gin

    Throughout my public service career, I have quietly promoted an issue that is close to my heart: the importance of civil rights for LGBT individuals.  Over the years, my husband Christopher has attended numerous public events and functions with me.  The Redondo Beach and South Bay Community has personally become familiar with the two of us being together and doing the things that any other married elected official couple would do.  Redondo Beach residents would frequently see and converse with us while shopping for groceries and running other errands through town.  In 2012, I was honored as the Morris Kight Political Grand Marshal of the Long Beach, CA LGBT Pride Parade.

    In 2011, I had the honor of appearing on NPR’s “All Things Considered” program with Karen Grigsby-Bates.  Ms. Grigsby-Bates interviewed several Mayors from throughout the county for her piece “Governing in Tough Times” and discussed how each Mayor was dealing with the Great Recession in their cities.  During the program, Ms. Grigsby-Bates highlighted a photo of me and my husband, Christopher.  After the program aired, I received many positive and supportive comments from the community and beyond, that my husband was featured on a national radio program.  While the program was not specifically geared towards LGBT issues, I found an opportunity to help spread the importance of civil rights for LGBT individuals throughout our community and Nation.

    One of my proudest moments on a national stage came during my farewell speech in January at the 2013 Winter Meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors.  Since 2009, I have had the honor of serving on the Advisory Board of the United States Conference of Mayors (USCM).  The USCM membership is comprised of Mayors of the principal cities from throughout the United States whose cities’ populations exceed 30,000.  At the end of my farewell speech, I pointed out my husband Christopher in the audience and personally thanked him for always being with me throughout my service as Mayor.  The room full of several hundred mayors from throughout the United States gave me a standing ovation.

    Michael A. Gin is Mayor of Redondo Beach, CA.

  • Equal Rights in Colorado

    Pat Steadman

    I’ve been working for equal rights in Colorado for over two decades.  While I was attending law school at the University of Colorado I became involved in local LGBT rights campaigns.  In 1991, I campaigned against a voter-initiated repeal of Denver’s recently amended civil rights ordinance.   The city council added protections based on sexual orientation, but right after it took effect a petition drive was started to repeal the new protections.  The equal protection ordinance survived the election. 

    Later that year a petition was circulated to place an anti-gay amendment to the state constitution on the ballot.  Known as “Amendment 2,” the initiative was passed by voters in 1992, sparking a boycott and leading to Colorado being called the “Hate State.”  I worked on the campaign opposing Amendment 2 and organized the lawsuit challenging it in court.  The case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court and resulted in the landmark Romer v. Evans decision in 1996, the first major victory for LGBT rights in our nation’s highest court.  

    My involvement in LGBT rights led me to a career in politics.  I spent fifteen years lobbying the General Assembly and running statewide ballot initiative campaigns.  My clients included school districts, health care providers, the statewide LGBT advocacy organization and other progressive groups.  In 2009, I was elected to fill the remainder of a state senate term.  I’ve been twice re-elected to the seat.

    I’ve watched the State of Colorado evolve its thinking on LGBT issues.  The Amendment 2 litigation sparked a backlash, and when the case concluded the legislature began a prolonged debate over same-sex marriage.  But the first state legislator came out, and soon openly gay candidates were getting elected.  The more we talked about our issues and the more visible we became, the more progress we made.  Early setbacks and legislative roadblocks gave us a reason to organize, mobilize and elect supporters.  Slowly, and with perseverance, things began to change.

    It took 10 years, but in 2005 we passed legislation expanding Colorado’s existing hate crimes act to include sexual orientation and gender identity.  In 2007, a new governor signed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that his predecessor had twice vetoed.  He went on to sign housing and public accommodations protections, second-parent adoption, equal benefits, and a new estate planning tool for unmarried persons known as a “designated beneficiary agreement.”

    My predecessor in the Colorado Senate was the first openly LGBT person to serve in the legislature.  Today there are eight, including the Speaker of the House.  I now serve as the Chair of the Joint Budget Committee, one of the most powerful positions in our legislature.  In the recently completed 2013 legislative session I was the prime sponsor of the Colorado Civil Unions Act, a law that took effect on May 1, 2013.  Because of a constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2006, marriage equality is prohibited in our state, and civil unions are the most the legislature can do until the constitution is amended again, or until the right lawsuit comes around.  Judging from the progress we’ve made in Colorado and all across the country we’re optimistic that things will continue to get better.

    Pat Steadman is a Colorado State Senator. 

  • Making Change with Integrity

    John Laird

    In working in my city, county, and state for over forty years, I have always had the goal of making change by working together with others to improve my community – and being clear about who I am.

    Thirty-five years ago, I joined with others to found a community credit union to provide credit for those who couldn’t get it, and keep our money local for reinvestment – an organization that now has thousands of members and tens of millions in assets and has led to the creation of many local jobs.  Almost thirty years ago, I was one of the six gay men that organized our local AIDS service agency.  I served as executive director for three years at the height of the epidemic, organizing hundreds of volunteers to educate the general public and to provide support to those with HIV.

    As a City Councilmember and Mayor, I was part of a team that brought new people into the municipal system, won a court case to establish greenbelts around our city, and established one of the early domestic partner benefit programs in the country. 

    As a state legislator, I authored eighty-two bills signed into law, and led my house in budget matters as Assembly Budget Chair.  I was proud that one of my civil rights bills was the basis for a state Supreme Court decision protecting a gay couple in adoption matters and that other bills restored community college health services, established the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, and expanded water conservation state-wide.

    As a member of the Governor’s cabinet, I have worked at his direction to finish the establishment of the largest network of marine protected areas in the nation, help save the Lake Tahoe Compact, and help him be on target to meet the state’s goal of 33% renewable energy by 2020.

    In each of these efforts, I have worked to be the best person for the job – while being clear who I was. In 1983, I was one of the first three openly gay mayors in the country – all elected that year.  When elected to the State Assembly, I was one of the first two openly gay men ever elected to the California legislature.  In my work I have been proud to have made a difference.

    John Laird is the California Secretary for Natural Resources.

  • Working for a Better Minnesota

    Karen Clark

    Throughout my 32 years in the Minnesota House of Representatives, I‘ve worked hard on behalf of those that are economically and socially disadvantaged or underrepresented, because that is part of my own life experience as a child growing up in a farming family that were share-croppers in southwestern Minnesota.

    Air quality continues to be a significant issue for many neighborhoods in my district and across Minnesota. The state currently monitors air quality by collecting data from several fixed points across the Twin Cities area. The problem with that strategy is that our low income and minority neighborhoods are regularly under served by the existing data collection system. That’s why I am working on legislation that would implement mobile air monitoring systems that will enable us to target areas of concern, compare them to other areas and lead us toward ensuring that these neighborhoods enjoy the same level of air quality that all communities enjoy.

    Similar to many metro areas across the country, we struggle mightily with issues relating to affordable housing. This year we were able to invest over $22 million in housing opportunities that will enable people to stabilize their housing situation. This can help families by making it easier for people to gain employment, for students to succeed in school, and for neighborhoods to improve their overall economic standing.

    Lastly, I worked hard to achieve marriage equality for same sex couples. It took an enormous amount of work by thousands of volunteers across the state to vote down a discriminatory anti-gay constitutional amendment in the 2012 election and to then mobilize an even broader coalition to pass a strong marriage equality bill.  With that signing, Minnesota became the 12th state in the country (plus the District of Colombia) to allow same sex couples the right to marry. We proved that marriage is about love and commitment between two individuals, no matter what their gender is.

    Karen Clark is a Minnesota State Representative.

  • Fierce, fearless, and out

    Simone Bell

    I have cared about people all of my life. My earliest memory goes back to when I was around seven or eight years old and I stood up for another child who was being bullied and called names due to a disability. I put myself between her and a group of mean kids. That innate sense of love, the idea that I would offer myself as a shield and dare to speak out against injustice rose up in me like a lioness protecting her cub. It was the beginning of my activism and advocacy. I’ve been doing so ever since.

    I came out to myself and my family as a lesbian in my early teens. Not really knowing what made me feel different, but fully understanding that I was. I searched for a language to explain my difference and in a ninth grade health class I learned the word lesbian and felt immediately at home. I embraced that word and myself. And I LOVED me. I was fortunate enough to attend Cass Technical High School, where individuality, community and excellence were nurtured. I met others that were different like me and we became a family of young people – fierce, fearless/fearful and OUT. We remain a family today.

    Being an activist who is fierce, fearless/fearful and OUT became the foundation on which I built my life. No matter what work I’ve done, I’ve performed it within a framework of activism and advocacy with a strong sense of social justice, and civil and human rights. Whether I was managing physician practices, volunteering with youth, assisting senior citizens, supporting lesbians living with cancer or traveling the South fighting for the civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people and those living with HIV/AIDS, the work has always been about speaking truth to power. It is always about seeking justice and being a voice for the silenced, the fearful and the most vulnerable.

    After 20 years of experience as an activist and advocate around this broad range of issues, preparation and opportunity crossed paths and I, along with a team of ambitious supporters, set out to take a seat at the table of decision making by running for Georgia State House of Representatives District 58. Not only did we win, but our campaign solidified me as the first African American OUT lesbian to serve in a State House in the United States.

    As State Representative, I continue to do as I did so many years ago for that young child with the disability, placing myself between the people whose voices are silenced and legislation and policies that are regressive and seek to destroy. I champion causes and legislation that lends itself to fostering a more just society for the issues dearest to my heart: workplace equality; access to affordable and quality health care; fighting HIV/AIDS stigma and discrimination; safe and effective schools for ALL students; youth empowerment and women’s issues.

    I am so thankful for the amazing people who nominated me for this prestigious award. I appreciate their kind words on my behalf and their continued support. I am also very thankful for the White House for creating the Champions of Change program. It’s pretty awesome to be recognized for simply being who I was born to be – fierce, fearless/fearful and OUT!

    Simone Bell is a Georgia State Representative.

  • Peace Corps Announces New Service Opportunity for Same-Sex Couples

    Earlier today, Peace Corps Deputy Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet announced that, starting June 3, the agency will begin accepting applications from same-sex domestic partners who want to serve together as volunteers overseas. 

    “Service in the Peace Corps is a life-defining leadership experience for Americans who want to make a difference around the world,” Deputy Director Hessler-Radelet said. “I am proud that the agency is taking this important step forward to allow same-sex domestic partners to serve overseas together.”

    Expanding service opportunities to same-sex domestic partners is not only consistent with the Obama Administration’s ongoing commitment to advancing equality for the LGBT community, it also further diversifies the pool of Peace Corps applicants and the skills of those invited to serve overseas in the fields of education, health, community economic development, environment, youth in development and agriculture.  

    Learn more about serving in the Peace Corps as a same-sex couple.