Metro Weekly

Advocates urge renewed effort to ensure LGBT progress

Speakers emphasize grassroots activism, information-sharing and strategy-sharing as keys to success

Raffi Freedman-Gurspan (Photo credit: National Center for Transgender Equality).
Raffi Freedman-Gurspan (Photo credit: National Center for Transgender Equality).

Local and national LGBT advocates gathered at a reception at D.C.’s Studio Theater on Thursday evening to regroup after a months-long onslaught of anti-LGBT legislation, some of which is still working its way through various state legislatures this year. Yet despite some difficult losses, most notably the passage in North Carolina of a new law prohibiting local governments from passing nondiscrimination ordinances, their fellow activists urged them to continue fighting for their goal of full equality.

Rebecca Isaacs, the executive director of Equality Federation, noted that since January, when this year’s legislative sessions started, her organization has been tracking more than 200 bills across the nation that aim to reverse or stop progress on LGBT rights. But she also pointed to victories in Oklahoma and South Dakota, where anti-LGBT legislation was either defeated or vetoed, as examples of how advocates can achieve success.

Sarah McBride, the campaigns and communications manager for the LGBT Research and Communication Project at the Center for American Progress, relayed her personal experience as an activist who pushed for gender-identity nondiscrimination protections in her home state of Delaware. McBride, now a board member of Equality Delaware, pointed to the recent passage of North Carolina’s law as a warning that LGBT advocates need to redouble their efforts and provide support to state-based organizations if they wish to be successful in defeating anti-LGBT initiatives.

“We need to re-engage and reinvest in the important work of state advocacy,” McBride said. “We need to make sure we have organizations that can support our local and state organizations, that allow for collaboration and information-sharing and strategy sharing between states, so that when these bills come up, we aren’t reinventing the wheel each time.”

Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, who last year made history as the first transgender person to become a White House staffer, urged LGBT advocates to be vigilant in their attempt to protect the progress made on LGBT rights, both on the state and federal level. 

Freedman-Gurspan used her speech as primarily a morale-booster, revisiting the many pro-LGBT accomplishments achieved under the Obama administration. Such accomplishments include progress toward open military service for both LGB and transgender individuals, regulations ensuring fair housing and medical access for transgender individuals, the addition of hate crimes protections for LGBT individuals, and a comprehensive approach to addressing HIV and AIDS disparities among at-risk populations, including transgender women of color. 

“Almost every single agency in the administration, from the Department of Labor, to Agriculture, to Interior, to the Treasury has prioritized some piece of policy or service delivery that impacts our community,” Freedman-Gurspan said. “The administration has heard us loud and clear: our lives matter, our families, our needs and our future count. Yet, as we all know very well, poverty, discrimination, unfair laws and regulations, violence and inequalities continue. We live in an uncertain future. … We are so vulnerable. We still need to be out there fighting.”

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