LaFlash: More can be done for gays, lesbians

From the Wisconsin State Journal, July 1, 2008

By Chad LaFlash

As we celebrate Gay and Lesbian Pride Month in Madison, let’s take a moment to consider why it’s important to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in our communities statewide.

The number of LGBT people in Wisconsin is not huge. But the number of people in the state who know or are related to a gay or lesbian person is huge.

While our courts are designed to help minorities obtain equal protection and treatment, it’s not feasible to look solely to the courts for action. That’s why it’s important to enlist help from friends, families, and allies of LGBT individuals.

There are successes to celebrate. Fair Wisconsin, OutReach, Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) for Safe Schools, and New Harvest Foundation are all doing wonderful things to address the needs of the LGBT community, and have been for many years.

Fair Wisconsin, in Madison, advocates for protecting civil rights, works with Milwaukee groups to strengthen services to LGBT people in both cities, and educates the broader community about the impact of discrimination. OutReach provides direct services to LGBT individuals who are struggling with discrimination or self-esteem issues.

New Harvest Foundation provides grant money to worthy LGBT causes. GSA for Safe Schools builds student leadership, provides trainings on LGBT issues and school safety to school professionals statewide, and leads trainings on anti-bullying strategies.

All four groups are member agencies of Community Shares of Wisconsin, which has long been a partner to and funding source for the LGBT community.

Yet despite great work from these nonprofit groups, we have such a long way to go.

There was the recent constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Such amendments often embolden people who hold discriminatory views, since they see the amendments as “majority support ” for discrimination or even violence.

So maybe we shouldn’t be surprised at the latest FBI statistics: LGB attacks in Wisconsin constituted 14 percent of all hate crimes — that’s up 5 percent from the previous year, reflecting the upward trend nationally.

Transgendered people are not even covered under the state’s definition of hate crimes, nor do they have statewide protection from discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations. (Madison and Dane County offer local protections.)

Domestic partner benefits are not offered to state or UW employees, and we’ve recently seen top professors leave the UW System for other large universities that do provide these benefits.

Outside of these legal concerns, people in Wisconsin still face discrimination and violence on a daily basis.

There is bullying in schools (called a major problem by over half of all middle-school students surveyed), rejection from family or coworkers, and outright hostility or attacks.

So what should our next steps be? First, we can do something as simple as adding the transgendered to the groups protected against hate crimes and against housing, employment, and public accommodations discrimination.

It’s critical to offer full protections against discrimination and full civil rights benefits to all of our state’s residents. I ask all of you who care about an LGBT individual — as a friend, colleague, or family member — to get involved. Vote, stay in touch with your elected officials, and contact the nonprofits mentioned above.

Doing so will reinforce that Wisconsinites truly care about putting an end to discrimination and about offering equality to all.

LaFlash is a community representative on the board of Community Shares of Wisconsin.


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