Blog Posts Related to the LGBT Community

  • 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.

  • Fair Housing Means EVERYONE

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted from the HUD Blog

    This past Wednesday, Secretary Donovan spoke to the National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Professionals (NAGLREP) and highlighted the many accomplishments the Administration and HUD have realized on behalf of the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender (LGBT) Americans:

    HUD and this administration have taken historic steps in the area of housing to ensure that we fulfill our nation’s commitment to equality.

    As part of its financial support for housing and urban development programs, HUD awards millions of dollars every year through competitive grant programs, funding that is announced by Notices of Funding Availability (or NOFAs). HUD has long required that outstanding civil rights violations must be resolved before an applicant can be considered eligible to compete for funds. More recently, HUD added to its requirements that an eligible grantee may not have outstanding civil rights violations of a state or local law prohibiting housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

    HUD has included similar anti-discrimination provisions in other areas. For example, some courts in Title VII civil rights challenges have applied principles of sex discrimination for gender stereotyping, which has provided limited but important civil rights protections for transgender individuals. Expanding on this in 2010, HUD formally adopted the principle that housing discrimination because of non-conformity with gender stereotypes – essentially gender identity discrimination – is sex discrimination under the Fair Housing Act.

    The following year, HUD enacted an important rule: Equal Access to Housing in HUD Programs Regardless of Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity. This rule does four important things to ensure that LGBT persons are not excluded from HUD’s programs:

    • It creates a broad requirement that housing falling within these categories is made available without regard to actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status.
    • It clarifies HUD’s definitions of “family” and “household” and reaffirms that these include all persons regardless of actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status.
    • It prohibits those funded by HUD or insured by FHA from asking about an applicant or occupant’s sexual orientation or gender identity for purposes of housing eligibility.
    • And finally, the rule prohibits FHA approved lenders from basing eligibility determinations for FHA-insured loans on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

    Earlier this year, HUD reached a historic agreement with Bank of America (BofA) to settle allegations the mortgage lender refused to provide financing to a lesbian couple and had illegally based its denial on the couple’s sexual orientation and marital status.

    Moving forward, HUD will continue to aggressively investigate these kinds of violations. And, using our research arm, we’ll study and monitor trends in fair housing. Next month HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research will release the first ever study of Housing Discrimination Against Same-Sex Couples.

    As Secretary Donovan said to National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Professionals, “Housing opportunities should be available to ALL persons.”

  • Ambassador Susan Rice Marks International Day Against Homophobia

    Today, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice released a video message to mark International Day Against Homophobia.

  • Observing National Day of Silence

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted from the Department of Education Blog

    Today GLSEN hosts its national Day of Silence—a day where students throughout the country take a vow of silence to call attention to anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools. I want to encourage all of us NOT to be silent on an important issue: the need to address and eliminate bullying and harassment in our schools.

    No student should ever feel unsafe in school. If students don’t feel safe, they can’t learn. And if left unaddressed, bullying and harassment can rapidly escalate into even more serious abuse.

    I want to remind students, parents, and administrators of the power of supportive clubs, like the Gay Straight Alliances or GSAs, to foster safe school environments. The Department of Education has provided guidance to schools on their obligations under federal laws to provide equal access to extracurricular clubs, including GSAs, as well to address bullying and harassment and gender-based violence.

    Let’s work together to end bullying and harassment in schools.

    Please visit StopBullying.gov and find additional resources from the Department of Education below–including school obligations under federal law:

    Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education