An LGBT Pride Month Event with US Labor Secretary Thomas Perez and Senator Tammy Baldwin

US Senator Tammy Baldwin and US Labor Secretary Thomas Perez on the stage at the US Department of Labor's 2016 LGBT Pride Event.

US Senator Tammy Baldwin and US Labor Secretary Thomas Perez on the stage at the US Department of Labor’s 2016 LGBT Pride Event.

NOTE: This blog contains several links including to other previous related blogs. Please do explore them. In addition, here is a link to the video recording of this event on Youtube!

For the past two years, I have been invited to attend the US Department of Labor’s LGBT Pride Month event. Not living in Washington DC, I am not normally able to attend, but this year I was in DC for two days of business at the time of this event. What a privilege to be able to attend this event on June 28, 2016 in our nation’s capital with two outstanding high ranking US government leaders.

(NOTE: two years earlier I had attended a meeting with Secretary Perez and a dozen other “faith leaders” representing the North Carolina Council of Churches. Link to the blog about that meeting.)

The 45 minute discussion was held like a “town hall meeting” with Secretary Perez starting with a five minute address and then interviewing Senator Baldwin. In his introduction, Mr. Perez quoted author Charles Dickens about it “Being the best of times and the worst of times” eluding to the US Supreme Court ruling on marriage a year ago followed by the recent massacre at the Pulse Bar in Orlando. He also mentioned the absence of nationwide employment protections for LGBT people and said that a gay person could get married today and then go into work tomorrow and get fired. (NOTE: I actually wrote a blog with that title – link.)

This year's US Dept of Labor LGBT Pride Month poster featuring a quote from out NBA basketball player Jason Collins.  (Link to my blog about Collins' coming out as gay)

This year’s US Dept of Labor LGBT Pride Month poster featuring a quote from out NBA basketball player Jason Collins. (Link to my blog about Collins’ coming out as gay)

Mr. Perez then introduced Senator Tammy Baldwin, the first openly out LGBT US Senator. He praised her for what she has done and how she had also done it with “Midwestern kindness” in an overall caustic political climate. Here are some of the key points Senator Baldwin made her comments:

• She personally realized the importance of universal healthcare coverage for all Americans early in her life. She was raised by her grandparents, and when she suffered through a rare and long childhood serious disease, she was not covered on their insurance since she was a grandchild. Then later in college, she had many classmates who were unable to obtain health insurance.

• She shared her journey as an out lesbian politician; from her county commission to the Wisconsin state house to US House to US Senate. She spoke of the importance of working for all constituents and building relationships. She also mentioned she was very fortunate in that a few out gay politicians helped pave the way for her and served as role models.

• The day before this meeting, she was fortunate to be in Greenwich Village, New York City, where President Obama designated the Stonewall Inn (gay bar in New York City) as an historic National Monument. (National Park website information about this new National Monument.) Stonewall was the location of the 1969 rebellion against police harassment of LGBT people and considered the birthplace of the American gay rights movement. Senator Baldwin poignantly spoke of how in the gay community, bars are actually places of safety and sanctuary, especially for people rejected by their families and communities for being gay.

Living in North Carolina where our politics is quite regressive (see my recent blogs about HB2 and hate in NC, and about alternative actions to boycotting our state,) I am encouraged by these excellent diversity and inclusion embracing leaders at our national level working for the benefit of ALL Americans.

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On a personal note, once again I got hopelessly lost driving in DC and arrived a little late, missing the introduction by Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, Outreach and Recruiter Director for Presidential Personnel, the White House’s first openly transgender staff member.

North Carolina’s HB2 – don’t boycott us, Cyndi Lauper-ize us!

Cyndi Lauper visiting Raleigh's LGBT Center before her June 4th concert.  I recognize the bookshelves in the background!  (Photo courtesy of the Raleigh News and Observer)

Cyndi Lauper visiting Raleigh’s LGBT Center before her June 4th concert. I recognize the bookshelves in the background! (Photo courtesy of the Raleigh News and Observer)

North Carolina has now become quite infamous for passing perhaps the most anti-LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) state law in country also referred to as HB2. Provisions of this bill include dictating that transgender individuals must use the restroom of the gender on their birth certificate instead of their “current presenting gender” in public facilities, and municipalities and counties are forbidden to have local non-discrimination ordinances that include sexual orientation and gender identity. In large part, HB2 was passed to invalidate a recent ordinance in the city of Charlotte that is equivalent to non-discrimination protections currently included in a vast major of Fortune 500 companies’ corporate policies. (Link to my letter in the Raleigh News and Observer about this.)

I truly believe this arcane law was passed out of fear, misunderstanding and /or hatred of gay and transgender people. I also believe the law is meant as political fodder to divide the people of North Carolina and pit us against one another. Do check out a blog I wrote earlier this year, “Why do we all need someone to hate on – and now in NC it’s transgender people.”

In response, many music performing artists like Bruce Springsteen have boycotted North Carolina and cancelled their performances. They all articulate their displeasure with this law and their unwillingness to travel to a state which discriminates so blatantly against a segment of their population. I do agree that these cancellations raise the visibility of the issue and that the economic impact may drive our leaders to reconsider their actions. However, these artists are also punishing the many fair-minded people and the LGBT citizens of North Carolina who enjoy their music and want to attend their concerts. Now if more events that may appeal to those who support HB2 (like the NBA all-star game or NASCAR events) decide to boycott, that may really raise the visibility of this issue.

So what is a viable alternative? Do what Cyndi Lauper did!

Instead of cancelling her concert, she came early and met with LGBT youth at Raleigh’s LGBT Center. She discussed the impact of HB2 with them and expressed that there are many many adults who love and care about them as full equal human beings despite what they may be hearing from our government leaders. And then she proceeded to donate the concert’s profits toward working to have HB2 overturned. Quote from Ms. Lauper, “I will be donating all of the profits from the show to Equality NC’s efforts to repeal HB2 and I am proud of my manager and agent for joining me in this effort by donating their commissions from the show to this vital effort.”

I just know having a heart to heart chat with a mega-star like Cyndi Lauper is an experience that will remain with those teens the rest of their lives, and that her donated funds will really help Equality NC’s efforts significantly. Read the details in this Raleigh News and Observer article, “Singer Cyndi Lauper meets with LGBT youth in Raleigh to talk to HB2.”

Though I respect artists and groups who are boycotting North Carolina due to HB2, I encourage them to perhaps think different and more creatively. Don’t desert us and isolate us in our time of need. Instead, come be part of the solution, and consider Cyndi Lauper-izing us instead!