Perpetuating pride

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LGBT people in Wisconsin have a lot to be proud of.

Our state was the first in the nation to ban anti-gay employment discrimination (1982) and the first to elect an out gay or lesbian non-incumbent (Tammy Baldwin) to Congress.

Wisconsin is one of only 14 states where legislatures have enacted some form of recognition for same-sex couples. And Milwaukee hosts a Pride festival every June that’s widely considered one of the nation’s best.

But despite all this, our LGBT community has a long way to go.

Community events are often sparsely attended and our organizations tend to be poorly supported. The “isms” that pervade American society as a whole – racism, sexism, ageism, etc. – also divide our community. Many gay and lesbian Wisconsinites still live in the closet out of fear, both real and perceived, of losing their jobs, their friends and their social standing.

The state’s LGBT community faces a number of urgent challenges. More of us continue to live unhealthy lifestyles than our straight counterparts, with higher rates of smoking as well as alcohol and drug abuse. HIV infections among young gay and bisexual men, particularly African-American men, are on the rise. Also, hate-motivated violence toward us, as evidenced by the recent slaying of Milwaukee transgender woman Dana Larkin, persists.

The November mid-term elections pose a serious threat to the political gains LGBT people have made in the state. The Republican Party here, as elsewhere, has taken a sharp turn to the social right, pushed by the Tea Party movement. As the party that’s now out of power, Republicans stand a strong chance of capitalizing on voter disaffection over the economy to seize control of the Legislature and the Governor’s mansion. If this occurs, some of the positive developments we’ve seen in recent years, including the establishment of the state’s domestic partnership registry, will be imperiled.

As we join with people throughout the world in celebrating LGBT Pride this month, let’s recommit to our community by becoming more involved, more inclusive and more politically engaged. We must remember that the freedoms we enjoy today were not just handed to us, but won through decades of activism and perseverance.

That’s something to be proud of, and something we must continue.