Activist Michael Jepson shares reflections on 2011

Guest writer activist Michael Jepson, board member of OutSpokane, shares his perspective on our lives as we all look back at 2011, and look forward to 2012.

Happy New Year! As I write this, it is the first week of 2012, and we can look back on 2011 as a year of hope and change for those of us in the LGBTQ communities, as well as our friends, and families. There has been so much progress, on so many fronts, that I would like to take a few moments to review the progress made in the year.

Internationally, Brazil and Ireland opened the door to Civil Unions in 2011. In addition the Mexican Senate adopted a constitutional reform banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. What I find most exciting is that the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a declaration condemning discrimination on the basis of orientation and gender identity.

“…being LGBT does not make you less human. And that is why gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.”

In United States politics, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed, allowing LGBTQ service members to serve openly and proudly. New York State ended marriage discrimination in 2011, the most populous state in the US to do so thus far. In a speech given on Human Rights Day, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said “…being LGBT does not make you less human. And that is why gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.” Finally Wisconsin’s “Inmate Sex Change Prevention Act” was overturned by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, acknowledging the rights of the transgendered.

Our religious members and allies made progress, too.  The Presbyterian Church USA approved a constitutional amendment allowing the ordination of clergy in committed same sex relationships,  More religious congregations chose to be identified as “Welcome and Affirming”, or their faith’s equivalent.

Spokane was visited by Dan Savage and Terry Miller, founders of the “It Gets Better” movement.  Dan Savage initially came up with the idea of it gets better following a spate of teenage suicides, which led him to reflect on his “husband in Canada, boyfriend in the US’s”  and his experiences with bullying as a gay teen in Spokane. They returned to the high school where Terry faced physical and emotional abuse, and Terry pointed out that he was surprised to see that there is now a Gay Straight Alliance at the school. Judy Shepard also visited, talking about her journey in the years since her son Matthew was murdered simply for being gay, and the progress made in the years since.

Being a new board member for OutSpokane, I am going to spend a bit more time on this year’s Pride Parade and Rainbow Festival in Spokane. What started twenty years ago with a few dozen marching on the sidewalks in downtown has turned into a parade and Festival that reached 5,200 people this year. With a Pride Cruise, recognition of Voices for Victory, and the parade and festival, the Spokane LGBTQ Community is sharing with the community at large. We are not the other. We are your daughters, sons, brothers and sisters.  We are neighbors, co-workers, fathers and mothers.

2011 was a year of progress and hope. So far, 2012 is showing great potential, with the Governor of Washington proposing marriage equality in Washington, and civil union laws taking effect in Delaware and Hawaii.  While we have made great progress in 2011, we have far to go.

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