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Op-ed: Where Will LGBT Activism Dollars Go Next?

Op-ed: Where Will LGBT Activism Dollars Go Next?


Courtney Cuff, the new president and CEO of one of the biggest donors to LGBT activist projects, looks to the next big wins for equality.

"Every LGBT person in every single state should have full and unconditional legal equality, and the Gill Foundation will not be satisfied with anything short of that." --Tim Gill, founder and chair of the Gill Foundation.


My first months as president and CEO of the Gill Foundation have been nothing short of electric. As I meet with leaders and donors from across the movement for LGBT equality, I am continually impressed by the innovations and collaborations that have propelled one of the most remarkable social movements of our lifetimes. And I am inspired to hear from others about the catalytic role that Tim Gill and the Gill Foundation have played, particularly in the battle for legal equality in the states -- a path to which the foundation is more committed than ever.

There is a palpable sense of optimism in our movement, in part because of our momentum on marriage. In the past year, the Supreme Court delivered two remarkable victories, and we added eight more states to the marriage equality column, bringing the total to 17 states and the District of Columbia. Public opinion continues to move in our favor, and a wave of court cases present near-term opportunities to dramatically expand the marriage map.

That collective optimism is qualified, however, by a keen awareness of the significant work remaining. Despite our successes elsewhere, in a vast swath of the country there remains a chasm between our community and the dream of full legal equality.

Consider this:

* Only 17 states and the District of Columbia have statewide protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Throughout the South and in much of the Midwest, Heartland, and Mountain West, state laws provide no recourse if you are fired simply because of who you are or who you love.

* Only 19 states and the District of Columbia have laws that specifically protect LGBT youth against bullying. In fact, eight states in the southern tier of the country have enacted barriers that make it more difficult to protect LGBT kids.

* A Williams Institute report on LGBT parenting shows that the states with the highest percentages of same-sex couples raising children are also states where legal protections for our families are at their lowest -- nearly all located in the South and Heartland.

The varying degrees of progress on legal equality across the country is a result of the fact that the LGBT movement, wisely, has focused energy and resources on states that presented the greatest immediate opportunities. With support for equality now expanding across the ideological spectrum and all demographic groups, however, there really is no state that we should consider beyond reach.

Freedom and opportunity are not Massachusetts or California values, they are American values. So it should come as no surprise that even the reddest states have strong majorities in support of policies like nondiscrimination, and progress already made in many of these states at the local level is a sign of things to come.

In my conversations with movement leaders it is clear we all are arriving at the same conclusion: It is well past time for every LGBT person in America to have equal treatment under the law, no matter where they happen to live or work. We can, and must, expand the equality map. And the time is now.

At the direction of Tim and our board, the Gill Foundation will immediately sharpen its focus on winning legal equality in the states and place greater emphasis on states where little progress has been made thus far.

This will not be easy. As someone who grew up in Georgia and attended college in North Carolina -- two of the remaining states with relatively few legal protections for LGBT people -- I appreciate very well both the imperative and the challenges facing us.

The states remaining are, in many ways, unlike those where we have experienced success previously. As we push forward into more conservative territory, we must question assumptions, try new innovative strategies, and embrace a diverse range of allies from all across the political spectrum.

We will need to stay vigilant as our opponents grow more desperate in their attempts to stop us. They are regrouping, building war chests, adapting strategies, and will enjoy greater advantages in many of the states ahead.

Expanding our funding to states many of us may not call home will be critically important. Those fortunate enough to live comfortably in states with greater freedom, opportunity, and security understand that our victories were not won in isolation, and our friends in the states that remain cannot win without our commitment of time and money.

Fortunately, from what I have seen in our movement, we are more than up to the task ahead of us. And losing is not an option.

COURTNEY CUFF is the president and CEO of the Gill Foundation.

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