“To Not Only Survive, But Thrive!”
The mass shooting in Orlando was a tragic reminder of the need for LGBT equality.
It has been over a week since the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida. It is a surreal feeling, to mourn so deeply for individuals who I have never personally met. 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. They were certainly from diverse backgrounds: black, brown, white, but we know that the majority of them hailed from the Latino community. In fact, it was “Latin night” at Pulse, an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, and they 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 twenty-something in Milwaukee. I wasn’t out anywhere but these LGBT safe havens. I had my first girlfriend at 22 years old. At Fannies, we could kiss, embrace, and slow dance together. 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, but also the anti-LGBT equality legislation that has emerged with a vengeance this legislative session. I thought immediately of the anti-transgender, anti-LGBT “bathroom bills” that we have seen introduced in state legislatures across the country. In Wisconsin, 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, Rep. Mark Spreitzer (D- Beloit), and 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 second parent adoption continues to be an issue for these families since our statutes have not been corrected to reflect marriage equality.
Lastly, AJR 117, a symbolic resolution recognizing 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, Rep. Todd Novak (R-Dodgeville), I was certain we would finally get this small, but important piece of legislation passed. In the end, Rep. 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, despite Rep. Spreitzer and my best efforts. Still, Rep. 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. Ensuring that Wisconsin’s non-discrimination statutes include transgender people, 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!”
JoCasta Zamarripa, D-Madison, represents District 8 in the Wisconsin Assembly.