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All Aboard the

All Aboard the


Lisa Hazirjian and her partner, Michelle, will join 15 other families on the Obama-Biden whistle-stop train ride from Philadelphia to D.C. for the presidential inauguration on January 20.

Lisa Hazirjian and her partner, Michelle, will join 15 other families on the Obama-Biden whistle-stop train ride from Philadelphia to the capital for the presidential inauguration on January 20. The group of "Everyday Americans" is scheduled to join the first family during inauguration activities throughout the week. Hazirjian, a modern history professor at Case Western Reserve University, led Obama Pride in Cleveland after facing discrimination in her career.

What motivated you to lend your support during the 2008 campaign season? As you know, I'm a professor, and I've been in a series of one-year jobs, which is pretty common in my field. I was offered a tenure track at a top-100 research university in a city where we have friends.

Michelle and I were excited about the opportunity but also concerned about the fact that the university did not offer domestic-partner benefits. We could foresee the potential for some problems with Michelle getting work where we would be moving. During the contract negotiations I raised this concern ... the department head, who had been extremely enthusiastic about me coming up to that point, was really hostile to me just raising this issue, and a day and a half later revoked the job offer. They refused to discuss things further with me, but simply told me they were no longer considering my candidacy.

Of course I had no legal recourse. There is no state-level nondiscrimination act, and obviously we don't have a federal nondiscrimination act. I'm someone who, when something bad comes my way, I want to think about how to keep that from happening to other people. When I saw Barack Obama talk about the passage of [the Employment Non-Discrimination Act] and really being fully committed to an inclusive ENDA, that resonated with me. He was the candidate who could really deliver that message to persuadable Americans. People who don't even know you can have your job revoked because you're lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

So what happened with your work situation after that? The last academic year I was on a nine-month contract with Carnegie Mellon. Michelle and I, the whole time, were commuting between Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Prior to that I was at Case Western Reserve University. Ultimately I was able to come back to Case Western. My prior contract there was written in a way that it was feasible to bring me back without doing a national search. Both Carnegie Mellon and Case offered domestic-partner benefits, and both are gay-friendly in their policies.

You were a John Edwards supporter in the beginning. What caused you to make the switch? I always really liked Obama. Early on I was envisioning an Edwards-Obama ticket, but I was one of those people who simply wanted to know more about him. By the time Edwards dropped out of the race, I was really impressed with Barack Obama's skills as a politician as well as his intellect, his policy, his openness to learning. All of that really impressed me. I also felt that it was important to have a candidate who, ever since he arrived on the national stage starting with his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, he has always talked about gay issues in his speeches, not just to gay audiences. He's also brought that message to hostile audiences, those who we don't think of as supporters. That's something that we really need in a president, especially with someone who isn't going to be in the Senate any longer passing through legislation. What we really need is someone setting the tone for the entire country, who is willing to reach out to places where there is more resistance to our issues, and say "Gay rights matter."

What are some of the issues that you think he should really tackle in the coming term, that may or may not be gay-specific. Obviously, it goes without saying, he's entering the presidency, literally, at the worst time ever in the memory of almost anyone who is alive today. He's got a lot on his plate. He should certainly get this economic crisis under control pretty quickly and get our foreign policy back on course. On the gay rights agenda, there are things that can be done on executive order. I think that in particular, extending nondiscrimination protection to transgender federal workers is something that is such a basic civil rights issue.

One of the most moving experiences I had doing my work as Obama Pride director was talking to a few transgender members in my community. Neither one of them traditionally voted, but they felt inspired by Barack Obama, in part because he's really committed, in part committed to including transgender rights, and what he would do on an LGBT rights front. And also because issues that affect all Americans, like the economic crisis, hit the transgender people I know really hard. It's already generally harder for them to get jobs than other people.

Health care is also a really big one. My partner and I have friends who have been devastated by hospital bills this past year, and that's even with health insurance. They've had over $10,000 in medical bills over what was covered by their insurance to deal with after a real life-threatening situation.

Was your partner, Michelle, very active in the campaign season? Michelle has often been politically active, and she certainly helped out on this campaign. Her number 1 job was keeping me from having a physical breakdown during the campaign. She entered an executive MBA program this fall and she's working full time, so she didn't have a whole lot of time to work on the campaign. She definitely made a huge contribution to my life, as she always does, by just being incredibly supportive of my efforts and not getting too frustrated when I didn't necessarily hold up my share of the housework on the campaign.

How were you selected to spend the train ride and inauguration activities with the Obamas and the Bidens? I don't know the exact selection process. We got a phone call on New Year's Eve from someone at the presidential inaugural committee letting us know that this is happening. We had a hard time not telling everyone immediately. But after the fact I did talk to Jamie Citron, who was the national deputy director for LGBT votes, who I had worked a lot with as Obama Pride director. He remarked that I had done so much hard work on the campaign. That seems to have been what distinguished me, in part.

The grassroots effort of people on the campaign is really what elected Barack Obama. My work is really representative of that. I was one of many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and allies in the state of Ohio, who really dedicated themselves on this campaign. We actually have an LGBT caucus in the Ohio Democratic Party. According to them there were over 6,500 volunteers who were LGBT and ally volunteers. I've heard people say in a couple of places that the combined Obama Pride and the LGBT Pride contributed the most volunteers than any group other than organized labor in Ohio. It really shows what a tremendous impact that LGBT voters can have on a grassroots level.

Do you get to spend any one-on-one time with the president-elect? I do know that we will have time to interact with the President-elect and Michelle Obama and the Bidens. I don't have the nitty-gritty details of the trip yet and would actually imagine that they're still ironing out the details. But it's the train trip, and also a lot of events throughout the entire inauguration, doing a lot of things as a whole entourage, so we'll have plenty of opportunities to interact with the Obamas and the Bidens and also with each other. I'm really looking forward to meeting the other 15 families.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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