Following up a history-making year

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A year ago, my husband and I packed up our lives in Florida and began a 1,200-mile drive north. In truth, it was a move home. I was born and raised in northwest Michigan, and my husband is from northwest Ohio. So it was really a move home to the Midwest. To a people whose values we share.

It’s good to be home. We never could have anticipated how warm the people here have been. You have welcomed us into your homes and into your community. Thank you.

A year ago we started a series of conversations about what we, the LGBT community, wanted to accomplish in 2012 and beyond. First and foremost on the list was to elect Tammy Baldwin to the U.S. Senate: mission accomplished.

Also on the agenda was to make sure our community had people not just advocating for policies but for individuals. Working with the Wisconsin Gazette, we were able to advocate for two new Wisconsinites when one of them was originally denied in-state tuition at UWM. The only thing more satisfying than the outcome was seeing how firm UWM’s commitment is to the LGBT community. That’s why the university is ranked as one of the top 10 most-welcoming campuses in the country.

We also saw the cities of Racine, Janesville, Eau Claire, Manitowoc and Kenosha add domestic partnership benefits, with our friends at Fair Wisconsin taking a leading role and continuing to make a difference in our state.

In addition, the city of Milwaukee passed an ordinance expanding its benefits package to include the children of domestic partners, retirees and their children.

By passing this policy as an ordinance, the city made history. It was the first time Milwaukee passed a benefits policy as an ordinance. The city now has the most progressive benefits policy of any municipality in the state. 

We also talked about moving past the negative community in-fighting of the past toward a brighter future of unity. A community that is united is always stronger than a community divided. A key component to bringing the community together has been the resurgence of the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center. 

Karen Gotzler, the committed volunteer interim executive director, and a board led by co-presidents Paul Williams and Jennifer Morales, have taken the center from an organization on life-support to a thriving stronghold at the center of Milwaukee’s LGBT community. 

Coming from an LGBT center in South Florida, I’ve witnessed the important role these centers play in our community. I encourage you to support the center’s current fundraising campaign and to take the time to visit, support, and believe in the center.

Last year was a great one for our community, but we can’t slow down. We have the chance to continue moving Wisconsin forward toward a more fair and equal future. We can’t forget how lucky we are to be in a position to be the agents of change. The time to step up is now.

In 2013, vow to make a difference, to be OUTspoken.