It Takes Five Seconds to Teach Fear

Advocating for our rights and our lives is nothing new for our community. This has been the fundamental work of Pride Foundation since we were founded during the HIV & AIDS crisis in the 1980s. Back then, we were doing everything we could to convince our government to recognize our humanity—and do something tangible to protect it—even though we knew that was a long road, especially with a president who would not even publicly acknowledge the epidemic that was devastating our community.

Simultaneously, we were creating clear and visible ways to educate the broader public about HIV & AIDS and about what it meant to be a lesbian or gay person, so that we could dispel the quickly growing fear that motivated people to call us “sick unfortunates”. We were ‘coming out’ in scores, not only for ourselves, but also because knowing one of us is an incredibly effective way to humanize our lives and our love.

This was, and remains, no small task. It takes just five seconds to teach fear. A depth of fear that is both easily harnessed and enough to make someone believe that their livelihood is threatened by the mere existence of someone who may be different from them. Once this fear is planted, it takes significantly more time, energy, and resources to cultivate the understanding and empathy necessary to unlearn this fear, and even more to then translate that understanding into policy.

This is our reality in Washington State right now.

Opponents of equality are using a fear-based campaign that vilifies transgender and gender diverse people for using the bathroom in order to undermine our 11-year-old law that protects LGBTQ people from discrimination. If I-1552 qualifies for the ballot in July, there is a very real possibility it could pass, setting a precedent and creating threats to our community across the country, including in Alaska and Montana.

So, we find ourselves in the midst of another critical effort to educate the broader public that our community is not a danger to people while defending the policies that show that our lives have equal worth. All of this within the context of a presidential administration that has already revoked protections for some of the most vulnerable among us—transgender children—from discrimination in schools.

In this moment, we are reminded of why we must commit to showing up wherever and whenever we can add value. Our grantmaking is core to this work, but we can go beyond this. We believe that we must advocate for and lend our institutional voice to key policies and legislation, utilize our convening capacity to bring together diverse partners, and devote staff time to address issues as they emerge in order to truly fulfill our mission. Remaining “neutral” when the lives and livelihoods of our community are at stake is not an option.

This is why Pride Foundation is utilizing every strategy, tactic, and resource available to us to collaboratively lead TRANSform Washington with a broad coalition of organizations, to build understanding, acceptance, and compassion for transgender and gender diverse people. We know that this education will help more people see and protect the humanity in our community—and that this is the only way I-1552 will be defeated.

It is exactly this advocacy and education work that transformed the HIV & AIDS crisis, secured the non-discrimination protections we currently have, won marriage equality, and got us to the place that so many never imagined possible in our lifetime.

Kris Hermanns is Pride Foundation’s CEO. Email Kris.

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