On July 7, the ACLU of Washington joined a broad range of community organizations to co-sponsor a forum on “The Continuing Fight for LGBTQ Equality – What Lies Ahead” at Town Hall Seattle. The event featured a panel to discuss the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision guaranteeing the freedom to marry for same-sex couples and a second panel on the remaining, ongoing efforts to achieve full LGBTQ equality in Washington.
The first panel included attorneys from QLaw Foundation, Lambda Legal, Legal Voice and the ACLU of Washington to discuss significance of this recent victory. While there’s no doubt that the ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges is an historic step forward for the LGBTQ community, many of the panelists reminded us that this incredible milestone was the result of slow, persistent, and often painful strides over the course of decades.
Hank Balson, an ACLU-WA Board Member and cooperating attorney, said one of the biggest takeaways from this case was the importance of the combination of litigation and legal efforts with the social movement and political advocacy happening at the same time. He also raised the human aspect of this movement and reminded attendees that “at the base of all of this are the people coming out, being who they are, standing up, being willing to endure persecution, shame, and violence to maintain their identity.” Hank went on to emphasize the collective nature of the win, explaining that “all of this was needed…the grassroots organizing, political advocacy, litigation, and the people living their lives with authenticity and courage.”
Panelists also had a shared sense of urgency to ensure that legal rights equate to lived equality. Indeed, the second panel spoke about efforts working towards lived equality through the work happening on the ground by community-based organizations. Speakers laid out focus areas for ongoing and future work, including addressing needs within the transgender community and the complex intersections between race, gender identity, and socioeconomic status within the LGBTQ community.
For example, lesbian couples, particularly couples of color, earn far less income because of the multiple layers of racial, gender, and sexual orientation inequity in the workforce. Transgender people face significant barriers to access in healthcare, employment, access to services, and safety in public spaces. In addition, transgender individuals of color and transgender individuals who live in poor communities face even higher rates of inequality.
The second panel consisted of representatives of a broad group of organizations, each with a special approach and perspective to the work ahead. These organizations included the Gender Justice League, Ingersoll Gender Center, Equal Rights Washington, Pride Foundation, the Greater Seattle Business Association, and LGBTQ Allyship, as well as the ACLU of Washington.
Organizations like Gender Justice League and Ingersoll Gender Center are working on many fronts and have been a leader in supporting the trans community as well developing trans activists to lift the voice of this incredibly marginalized community.
Equal Rights Washington is working on many campaigns, including efforts to end the use of conversion therapy, promote competent healthcare for trans individuals, and create policies that ensure safety in schools for queer youth. The Pride Foundation continues to make a direct impact on the lives of all LGBTQ people and continues their work protecting communities from HIV. LGBTQ Allyship, a group of LGBTQ activists and allies, is working to advocate for and build solidarity within the LGBTQ movement, while the Greater Seattle Business Association is working to build pressure within the business community to support the LGBTQ community by educating business owners on the issues.
On the legal frontlines, the ACLU-WA, Lambda Legal, and Legal Voice are working directly to bring impact litigation. For ACLU-WA, Jenni Wong, Robina Public Interest Fellow, explained that part of the ACLU’s focus is to enforce the protections laid out in the law, particularly in access to health care, parental rights of LGBTQ families, and employment laws, as well as battling discrimination based on religious beliefs.
The diversity and sheer breadth of work across all of these organizations reinforced a sense of both urgency and hope for the future of LBGTQ rights in Washington. What I appreciated most about the event was that even on the heels of a historic win for same-sex marriage, no one skipped a beat in identifying the work ahead. Everyone was looking towards the next horizon.