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Here's What LGBT University Is and Why We Need It

Here's What LGBT University Is and Why We Need It


The organization known as Freedom for All Americans is working to create the next generation of LGBT leaders.

As we settle into a post-marriage equality America, crucial work is already advancing to pass comprehensive nondiscrimination ordinances and block harmful legislation that would reverse our progress. In Houston, all hands are on deck to pass HERO (Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance) early next month. In Massachusetts, the joint judiciary committee just wrapped up a hearing on a bill that would fully protect transgender people from discrimination in the state. And just a few weeks ago, we beat back a last-ditch attempt in North Carolina to prohibit cities and municipalities from passing nondiscrimination protections for their residents.

That's only the beginning of a slew of legislation that will come forward over the next several months. With that anticipation, and with the momentum of the marriage movement still percolating throughout the country, Freedom for All Americans launched earlier this year as the national bipartisan campaign seeking to secure comprehensive nondiscrimination protections at the federal, state, and local levels. We're enlisting organizers, communications strategists, digital gurus, and campaign veterans in various states to set the groundwork for victory. We're engaging with businesses, faith leaders, Republicans and Democrats alike, and unexpected supporters in order to tell the full story of the strong majority of Americans who support full protections for LGBT people.

And as part of our efforts, a few weeks ago we wrapped up the first-ever launch of Freedom for All Americans' LGBT University apprenticeship program. LGBT University is a new and innovative training program delivering issue, skill, and campaign trainings to the next wave of movement advocates and leaders. It is also the first training to identify one specific LGBT advocacy goal and bring together experts and rising campaign managers and organizers, in order to share their knowledge and skills. LGBT U's apprenticeship program develops future nondiscrimination campaign managers and staff through a year-long training program. The first apprenticeship training was held in Phoenix in September.

Sixteen apprentices joined almost as many trainers and presenters for an intensive and experiential training about building successful campaigns to win nondiscrimination protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in states and municipalities around the country. We had veteran managers of historic marriage campaigns talk about what it takes to win a ballot initiative. We had leaders in transgender storytelling discuss how to ensure your campaign is fully inclusive. We went over fundraising, budget allocation, and staffing. By the end of the week, we even held a mock competition where apprentices pitched sample campaign plans.

As director of the program, I'm proud of the work we've done so far and where LGBT U is headed. Both the presenters and the apprentices come from diverse backgrounds and are talented and dedicated. We have developed the kind of training that, as a former CEO of a state LGBT advocacy group, I wish I had gotten when starting this work. The curriculum we set forth in Phoenix is just the beginning of a year-long program in which the trainers will continue mentoring LGBT U apprentices, with monthly meetings, regular check-ins, and additional in-person trainings to keep developing leadership skills. Focusing on the single issue of nondiscrimination allows us to apply best practices to real-world campaign strategies; examine and hone our skills through interactive workshops; and now, hopefully, bring back what we've learned to put to use immediately. We hope to ultimately connect apprentices with opportunities at campaigns in their communities or elsewhere -- and the time is now.

In more than half the country, LGBT people are not protected in housing, employment, or public accommodations. In a step backwards, legislators in my home state of Wisconsin recently introduced a bill that could force transgender children to use restrooms and locker rooms in school that do not correspond to their gender. Presidential candidates are spewing myths about gay and transgender people to promote their own platforms. As the work increases, Freedom for All Americans will keep ramping up its work, and LGBT U will become even more necessary.

To learn more about LGBT U and how to participate, visit

KATIE BELANGER is the director of LGBT University at Freedom for All Americans.

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