In anticipation of the 2017 Washington State legislative session, many groups concerned with advancing LGBTQ equality are busy studying bills, coordinating lobbying efforts, meeting with state legislators, and organizing community partners.
One such organization is Legal Voice, a Seattle-based organization pursuing justice for all women and girls in the Northwest through groundbreaking litigation, legislative advocacy, and legal rights education.
David Ward, Legal Voice’s Legal & Legislative Counsel who is at the forefront of the legal fight for LGBTQ equality and gender justice, met with us to share how he came to this work and what he will be working on this year.
David came of age as this country was making a palpable shift to the right. He recalls conservative North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms leading the political fight against LGBTQ people. And he remembers witnessing attacks on women’s rights and watching rollbacks on issues he thought resolved.
“I knew at that time,” David recalls, “that we were going to need to organize.”
David resolved to be a part of that organizing and to use the law—legislatively and in the courts—to fight back.
And he’s done that now for nearly two decades, including eight years at Legal Voice.. Still, he knows there is more to be done to advance equality, and his passion for this critical work is unwavering.
David also notes that, even in a state that recognized marriage equality long before it went nationwide, discrimination against LGBTQ people persists – even in the courtroom. For instance, Legal Voice is currently awaiting a decision from the Washington Supreme Court in a case involving a mother of three who filed for divorce from her husband after realizing that she is a lesbian. The trial court not only gave primary custody of the children to the father, but it also restricted her from discussing homosexuality and “other alternative lifestyle concepts” with the children. She couldn’t even bring her partner around her kids without approval from their therapist.
Another example of a case that David is currently working on, alongside his team at Legal Voice, involves a plasma center that discriminates against transgender people.
Cases like this, he reflects, reaffirm why he followed this career path. Now with another political shift in Washington DC, David sees renewed purpose in his work.
“When it gets harder to make progress at the federal level,” explains David, “that makes state and local legislative work even more important. We need to fight for that now.”
In Washington, lawmakers have already filed a harmful bill, HB-1011, that would repeal basic protections for LGBTQ people, particularly transgender Washingtonians. In Anchorage, opponents of equality have filed an initiative to allow discrimination on the basis of religious freedom. Nationally, there is a movement to create additional exemptions for individuals and organizations that do not want to abide by existing federal, state, and local laws based on religious conscience. A dangerous example of this is the recent court injunction that blocks regulations prohibiting insurers, doctors, or hospitals from discriminating against transgender patients or women with an abortion in their medical history.
“The communities we work to protect are under attack—women, LGBTQ people, the rights of the most vulnerable. Working on behalf of these communities is more important than ever,” explains David.
“We need to make sure that we all come together and show up for each other to fight against these attacks,” David asserts. “We’ll have to respond to the new attacks through the courts, through policy advocacy, and through unifying our work and communities moving forward.”
Zachary DeWolf is Pride Foundation’s Director of Communications and Education. Email Zachary.