Pride in Government

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The first Pride Parade I ever attended was in 2003, just days after the Supreme Court ruled on Lawrence v. Texas, a groundbreaking decision that struck down the Texas law which criminalized sodomy.  I was in San Francisco.  Marchers held signs, “I had sodomy for breakfast.”  As I had only come out less than two years prior, the immense outward free expression of pride and celebration of equal rights was overwhelming—in a good way.  As Pride month culminates here in this weekend’s festivities and annual parade, I reflect on a couple recent developments that are cause for celebration—personally, with respect to future aspiring parenthood and to professional growth and inspiration.

First, I am happy to see that Obama is delivering on matters of equality for the gay and lesbian community.  Tomorrow’s ruling to change the family leave policy will mark a step forward for gay and lesbian parents who will soon be able to take family and medical leave from work to care for sick or newborn children.  Significantly, the family and medical leave will apply regardless of whether the parent has legally adopted the child.  This is great news for those who live in states that do not allow second-parent adoption by a same-sex partner.  While the doors to the institution of marriage are still closed to us by the Defense of Marriage Act, thus precluding any receipt of federal benefits, the Labor Department’s ruling tomorrow is a step forward showing that our relationships are being recognized in some practical sense, at least with respect to our children. 

The second source of pride-points is Jenny Durkan’s service as U.S. Attorney for Western Washington.  Amazing credentials aside, not only was she the first open lesbian U.S. Attorney in our country, breaking an important barrier, she stands as a wonderful role model for aspiring gay public figures and professionals overall.  When Durkan spoke as one of the keynote speakers at yesterday’s Department of Justice’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month ceremony, she stated that coming out as gays and lesbians professionally helps reduce others’ fear and ignorance of our humanity.  She noted that her appointment as the first lesbian U.S. Attorney was path-breaking but overdue.  As a young attorney counseled by my rather conservative parents not to draw attention to my sexual orientation in this very traditional profession, it is heartening, to say the least, to wake up in the morning and know that the federal prosecutor in my state lives the humanity that we work so hard to get public officials in our capitol to accept. 

To kick off the DOJ Pride Month program, Attorney General Eric Holder highlighted the Obama administration’s accomplishments on LGBT issues this past year, which include the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act—the first time in U.S. history where gender identity makes an appearance in the U.S. Code—and the extension of the Violence Against Women Act to cover same-sex partners.  These are solid steps forward in legislative movement. 

The administration’s actions in this recent year lay the foundation for rising generations to grow up in a society where the gender of the person you love doesn’t render you any less deserving.  And Jenny Durkan’s appointment paves the way for professionals to step out and serve openly, particularly those figures in public civic leadership roles. 

Ironically, the DOJ event was titled, “Serving Openly, With Pride!” and put on by DOJ Pride, in support of the DOJ LGBT employees.  I await the day when that motto will extend to our brothers and sisters serving in the military to defend our country.  Perhaps that will be cause to celebrate in Pride 2011.

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