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Friends and family members embrace outside the Orlando Police Headquarters during the investigation of a shooting at the Pulse night club. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Steve Nesius

Mourning after the massacre, forging ahead on pro-LGBT policy

It has been more than a week since the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida. It is a surreal feeling, to mourn so deeply for individuals who I did not meet.

I am still reeling, like so many of us are, at the loss of life. Fifty, including the shooter.

They say some were straight allies.

They say the murderer may have been gay.

But we know the majority of the victims were members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

State Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa. — PHOTO: Courtesy

State Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa. — PHOTO: Courtesy

They were from diverse backgrounds: black, brown, white, but we know the majority of them hailed from the Latino community. In fact, it was “Latin night” at Pulse and many went to dance salsa, merengue and bachata. They went to laugh and drink and be themselves. They were there to live their lives authentically.

I remember going to gay bars like Fannies, Dish, MONA’s and La Cage as a young twentysomething in Milwaukee. I wasn’t out anywhere but these safe havens. I had my first girlfriend at 22 years old. At Fannies, we could kiss, embrace and slow dance. I didn’t feel comfortable doing that in any other public space, at that time.

My heart sinks when I think about the young victims who may not have yet come out to their families. I know the pain of not allowing my partner to hold my hand at the movie theater. I know the sting of having to avoid the question when asked if I was gay. And I’m angered to think of the hateful, vengeful, disturbed individual who stole that freedom from them because there is nothing like the liberty I have felt as an out, openly bisexual member of the LGBT community.

Although many elected leaders, spoke to the need for gun reform laws to be passed in the hours after the Orlando tragedy, I have to be honest and admit that the first thing to cross my mind was not gun reform. I support the need for gun reform, but my first thoughts went to LGBT policy, pro-equality and the anti-LGBT equality legislation that has emerged with a vengeance this legislative session.

I thought immediately of the anti-LGBT “bathroom bills” that we have seen introduced in state legislatures across the country. In Wisconsin, state Rep. Jesse Kremer, R-Kewaskum, and his Republican caucus have been passionately advocating for this bigotry to become law.

Of course, I also thought of the pragmatic LGBT equality legislation that I introduced this session, along with my fellow out Democrats, state Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D- Beloit, and state Sen. Tim Carpenter, D- Milwaukee, as well as many of our straight Democratic allies.

AB 816 would “clean up” the statutes to reflect the legality of same-sex marriage. Passage of this bill is needed, especially by same-sex couples who are trying to adopt their child, but 2nd parent adoption continues to be an issue for these families since our statutes have not been corrected to reflect marriage equality.

SJR 46 would finally remove the hateful language banning marriage equality from our state’s constitution. Our constitution was amended in 2006 and language was added banning same-sex marriages and domestic partnerships. Despite a huge victory in 2014 on marriage equality via the Supreme Court, this discriminatory language still sits in our state constitution, a stain on our history that many feel should be wiped clean.

AJR 117, a symbolic resolution, would recognize June as LGBT Pride month. I have worked, since coming out publicly in 2012, to get this symbolic resolution passed in the state legislature, but to no avail.

This session, after Wisconsin elected the first openly-gay Republican, state Rep. Todd Novak, Dodgeville), I was certain we would finally get this small, but important piece of legislation passed.

In the end, Novak couldn’t be counted on to support even this symbolic legislation and watched as his Republican colleagues killed not just this bill, but every other LGBT equality bill.

Still, Novak teaches us a good lesson: That it is not enough to be out in elected office.

Openly-LGBT elected officials must represent our community pro-actively by introducing LGBT equality bills and fighting hard against anti-transgender, anti-LGBT bills that we are seeing spring up across the country.

For my part, I plan to continue my work with my Democratic colleagues to push forward pro-LGBT equality policy. Passage of a state-level Employment Non-Discrimination Act, as well as policies addressing youth homelessness, suicide prevention, and health & wellness are at the top of my list as I move forward — an out, proud, openly-LGBT elected Democrat.

I know that none of this will bring back the 49 brothers and sisters we lost on Sunday morning, but my hope is that this work will help to combat the scourge of homophobia and help my fellow LGBT Wisconsinites to live their lives authentically, happily and safely. As my friend and fellow LGBT leader, Brian J., says so eloquently, “to not only survive, but thrive!”

Democratic State Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa represents the 8th Assembly District in Wisconsin.

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