A Senate Campaign Interlude With Friends, Family and the President

As for so many of my friends who were present to listen to the president, all the aspects of my life seemed to have come together to help produce positive change. The education, advocacy, community service and political lobbying and maneuvering all have that one goal: to create a better world for the next generation.
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As I write this, comfortably on Amtrak, homeward bound after two days in New York, I'm in a particularly pensive mood. Election Day will be over in seven days, and my long campaign for the Maryland State Senate has finished. Regardless of the outcome, I'm very proud of my team and the professional job they've all done over the past six months. It has been a pleasure working with them. I very much enjoyed getting to know my neighbors and moving the progressive agenda forward in my state.

It feels particularly surreal to have been in my childhood home the past two days as my world changed yet again. I was called home for the funeral of the mother of my oldest friend, a woman who always had her door open for us, with orange soda and cookies in hand. I've known her since third grade, and I don't remember her ever being critical. The old gang was back together for this bittersweet event, and, as is often the case, our relationship dynamic reverted back to the way it existed in high school. The only difference this time was that I sat in the women's section in this Orthodox funeral home, a disconcerting reminder of the sexism that still pervades fundamentalist religion.

After returning to the city after the funeral, I had dinner with another old friend, who, together with her husband, are two of the trans community's most fervent and generous supporters. Alison Gardner and her daughter Tiye, who today took me on a tour of her new business, Organic Avenue, have always gone the extra mile, and Alison, together with her husband Dan Massey, is responsible for making the D.C. trans community the presence in the city that it is today. Through their support of the DC Trans Coalition, and particularly Casa Ruby, the city's leading nonprofit supporting the daily needs of its trans citizens, they made their indelible mark on us all. Two weeks ago I had the honor of awarding the inaugural Dan Massey Ally Award to Dr. Ted Eytan, who is working assiduously to make the Kaiser health system completely trans-inclusive, trans-supportive and culturally competent.

This morning began with a discussion on HuffPost Live with friend and PR specialist Cathy Renna and author, activist and academic Jay Michaelson, currently a visiting scholar at Brown University. Hosted by Ricky Camilleri, the discussion covered the previous day's surprise announcement that President Obama is planning to finally sign the long-awaited executive order banning discrimination by federal contractors on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. This executive order, still unseen, will cover the 28 million Americans working for employers with federal contracts exceeding $10,000 annually, regardless of business size. This is significant because it includes companies with fewer that 15 employees, which are not covered under Title VII and wouldn't be covered under the still-stagnating Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) either. So this action, a part of the president's "Year of Administrative Action," is essential to the LGBT community regardless of whether ENDA becomes law or Title VII is extended to include gender-conforming gay men and women.

Prior to our HuffPost Live segment I had the pleasure of meeting Sandy Stier and Kris Perry, two of the four litigants in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Prop 8 case that was successfully argued before the Supreme Court last year by Ted Olsen and David Boies. They were immediately recognizable to me from all the media coverage leading up to the SCOTUS decision, not to mention the more recent media coverage of the controversy over Jo Becker's book detailing the Prop 8 case, and it was a pleasure to meet the couple away from the hype and all the handlers. They were far more down-to-earth than they may appear under the Klieg lights, and their humanity was brought out later during their HuffPost Live conversation.

After chatting with Arianna Huffington, Cathy and I then caught up over lunch before we headed back to prepare for the DNC LGBT gala at Gotham Hall on Broadway. Walking back to my hotel from the subway, I was struck that here I was in New York, temporarily detached from my campaign, in which I had been immersed for months, feeling adrift because of the sudden change, yet back celebrating another victory in which I had played a small part as board chair of Freedom to Work. As for so many of my friends who were present to listen to the president, all the aspects of my life seemed to have come together to help produce positive change. The education, advocacy, community service and political lobbying and maneuvering all have that one goal: to create a better world for the next generation.

This was highlighted by three people I was honored to meet, the first two being 14-year-old Alex Pardue and his mother, Jenny Chambers, guests of the terrific activist Mitchell Gold, who labors to challenge the religious community's assault on LGBT persons. Alex is one of those young gay men who struggled with his belief that being gay is a sin.

The other was Geena Rocero, a trans activist originally from Manila who has founded Gender Proud to advance trans rights on a global scale. Geena came out in a recent TEDTalk after a 12-year career as a model. I can barely imagine how they all felt in that room of 550 activists, including Edie Windsor and her attorney, Robbie Kaplan, being addressed so enthusiastically by the president of the United States.

While the president announced the drafting of the executive order, the comments that I believe are most important (and also received the largest ovation) were:

This is a country where -- no matter who you are, or what you look like, or how you came up, or what your last name is, or who you love -- if you work hard and you take responsibility, you should be able to make it. That's the story of America. That's the story of this movement: people who stand up, and come out, and march, and organize, and fight to expand the rights we enjoy and extend them to other people; people who work against the odds to build a nation in which nobody is a second-class citizen, [where] everybody is free to be who they are, and ... you're judged based on: Are you kind, and competent, and work hard, and treat each other with respect, and are a team player, and look after your community, and care [for] and love and cherish your kids? That's how we're supposed to be judged.

That's the fight that brought all of us here today. That's what made it possible for me to stand up here as your president. It's what gave many people in this room the freedom to live their lives freely. It's what should inspire us to keep working to make sure all our children grow up in an America where differences are respected and even celebrated, and where love is love.

And it is also why those of us who, in the past, might have not always enjoyed the full liberty that this amazing country of ours has to offer [have] got to be thinking about others who are still struggling. That's why this community has to be just as concerned about poor kids, regardless of sexual orientation.

That's why this community should be fighting for workers who aren't getting paid a minimum wage that's high enough.

That's why this community has to show compassion for the illegal immigrant who is contributing to our society and just wants a chance to move out of the shadows.

That's why this community should be concerned about equal pay for equal work, straight or gay.

That's why this community has to be concerned about the remaining vestiges of racial discrimination.

If you've experienced being on the outside, you've got to be one to bring more folks in, even once you are inside. That's our task. That's our job. That's why we're here tonight.

Now I'm on my way home to continue to do my part -- at this point in time as America's first openly trans candidate for a state senate, working to jump-start the progressive economic transformation of Maryland. After next Tuesday, who knows what will come next? However it turns out, I will continue to serve the public to the best of my ability and fight to make the world better for my children and the generations to come.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post erroneously presented a paraphrasing of President Obama's remarks at the DNC LGBT Gala as a direct quotation. The post has been updated to reflect his actual words.

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