For the young Northwest LGBTQ leaders invited in September to Washington, D.C., meeting Vice President Joe Biden is something that will have a lasting impact on their lives.
“He held my hand, gave me a serious, hard look, then thanked me and my people for our leadership on marriage equality,” said Heather Purser, a member of the Suquamish Tribe. Heather was among four Pride Foundation-recommended emerging young LGBTQ leaders selected by the Obama Administration to come to D.C. on Sept. 19 for a tour of the White House, an LGBTQ policy roundtable discussion, and an end-of-summer barbecue reception at the Vice President’s residence.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that has inspired me to work for change in both of my communities—LGBTQ and tribal,” said Purser, a key player in her tribe’s unanimous decision last year to allow same-sex couples to marry.
Joining Purser were Jamee Greer of Montana Human Rights Action Network, Kyle Rapiñan of Seattle’s Queer Youth Space, and Josh Parrish, a current Pride Foundation scholar who also worked this summer for the ACLU of Idaho as part of Pride Foundation’s Fellowship Program. Christian Baeff of CAUSA in Oregon was also nominated and was invited but was unable to attend. Another Pride Foundation scholar this year, Marisol Cervantes of Boise, also traveled to D.C. for the event, representing GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network). They were joined by senior Obama Administration officials, leaders of national LGBTQ organizations, and campus and community leaders from throughout the country.
Guests represented an array of diversity and talent within the LGBTQ community, according to Gautam Raghavan, an associate director of public engagement for the White House, and included students and community organizers, advocates and artists, and veterans—all committed to the pursuit of equality, justice, and dignity for LGBTQ citizens.
“This experience has made and will continue to make a huge impact on me,” Parrish said. “It was both a validation of the work so many of us have committed to doing for equal rights, and motivation to continue our fight. It will inspire me to chase my passions and work as hard as possible for the millions of Americans who are discriminated against because of their identity.”
In his remarks during the barbecue, Biden spoke to his own commitment to civil rights, and paid tribute to the many advocates and heroes who have helped pave the way towards a more perfect union, Raghavan said. A moment was also taken to acknowledge the one-year anniversary of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“The motivational words from Vice President Biden reminded me why I started doing the work I currently do,” said Cervantes, a biomedical engineering major at College of Idaho in Caldwell and also youth liaison for Idaho Safe Schools Coalition, a Pride Foundation grantee. “It refueled so much of my passion for all the future projects I intend on pursuing. Witnessing the work and dedication that all the activists had in Washington, D.C. made me realize that full LGBTQI equality will one day happen, and that it will partially be because of all the courageous people who stand up as activists for change.”
Greer enjoyed an opportunity to speak to attendees about the work happening in Montana and Idaho to pass citywide LGBTQ non-discrimination ordinances and his hope that those efforts will eventually lead to action at the national level for broader protections.
“I said that I was incredibly thankful as a queer man and a LGBTQ activist for the work happening in America’s more urban areas—that it was really moving this country forward,” Greer said. “I am never going to forget what it felt like to be in a small group of people huddled around the vice president while he said the words ‘Thank you. Your work has made America a better place.'”
Rapiñan, a past Pride Foundation scholar, found a discussion about government resources allocated to homeless queer youth of particular interest.
“I raised a number of important policy thoughts such as the Obama Administration’s stance on transgender access to bathrooms, since it could be argued to be an issue of federal public accommodations,” Rapiñan said, adding how thrilled he was to be among the group of attendees recommended by Pride Foundation.
“This was a serious honor to be selected and represent the needs of Seattle residents, as well as young queer people with the Obama Administration,” he said. “I am dedicated to continuing the mission and campaign of Pride Foundation in no matter what I do.”
Steve Martin is Pride Foundation’s Regional Development Organizer in Idaho. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.