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The New Presidential Administration and Equal Rights

November 4, 2008 transformed America’s history. We elected the nation’s first nonwhite President, who supports many of our issues and seems to be inclusive of our voices. History also was made in the transgender community. The small town of Silverton, Oregon elected Stu Rasmussen, the nation’s first openly transgender mayor. Yet Election Day was bittersweet. We awoke the next day realizing that true equality is a little farther off than many of us had hoped. We suffered painful, frustrating losses: redundant and cruel marriage exclusion measures passed in Arizona and Florida, a measure preventing unmarried couples from becoming foster parents passed in Arkansas, and under the guise of Proposition 8, a bare majority of Californians took away the fundamental right to marry from same-sex couples. Nationwide protests and boycotts have been staged and are continuing, inspiring much useful, ongoing conversation. 
Despite the joy and disappointment many of us felt on Election Day, the lessons we have been drawing since underscore how much work we have yet to do. Just as Mayor Rasmussen’s election does not signal the end of the pervasive ***-phobia that grips this nation, neither does the election of the nation’s first African-American president mean we have eradicated racism, including from our own community. 
But with the election of Barack Obama, and arguably a gay-friendlier Congress, there is reason to hope. Any progressive legislative agenda should include passage of the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), repeal of the pernicious “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on openly gay military service members, and the appointment of fair-minded judges. Lambda Legal insists on a fully inclusive ENDA that prohibits workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity because these forms of unfair treatment often overlap and both are rooted in common stereotypes about sexuality and gender roles. Several state courts have rightly held that everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, is entitled to the state benefits and social status that come with marriage. The new administration should take a long, hard look at the federal government’s harmful discrimination against same-sex couples, and take steps to remedy it, including pushing Congress to repeal the “Defense of Marriage Act.” 
For 35 years, Lambda Legal has been litigating in state and federal court to end discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and HIV status. We will continue to be at the forefront of community efforts to insist on fair-minded judges who include members of the LGBT community within the Constitution’s guarantees of liberty and equality. 
The elections of Stu Rasmussen and Barack Obama demonstrate that this country is embarking on a period of optimism and promised change with important promise for LGBT people. The successes we achieve undoubtedly will be followed by setbacks. However change must come not only legislatively or through the judicial process.
Change for our community requires that we work together, roll up our sleeves and engage in even more of the difficult conversations about our families and the lives we lead with those who oppose us. And as we change minds one by one, we will achieve the success each of us needs and deserves.
Stefan Johnson is the Help Desk Staff Attorney for Lambda Legal, the oldest and largest national legal organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and people with HIV. Johnson has been with Lambda Legal's Western Regional Office in Los Angeles since 1998. He oversees the functioning of the Help Desk in all of Lambda's five offices. He has a Juris Doctorate degree from Willamette University School of Law in Salem, Oregon and is a member of the Oregon State Bar. Prior to Lambda Legal, Johnson was a deputy district attorney in Multnomah County, Oregon where he handled more than five hundred felony and misdemeanor trials.