Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen.
Cal Anderson, Washington's first openly gay state congressman, spent each of his eight years in the legislature fighting for a gay rights bill which, at the time, he knew had no chance of passing. When Anderson died of AIDS in 1995, Rep. Ed Murray, Anderson's former campaign manager, took up the cause and spent the next decade as the bill's lead sponsor.
Twenty-nine years after the first gay rights bill was introduced in Washington, the tireless efforts of Anderson, Murray, and thousands of activists culminated in the passage of HB 2661 last week. The bill--which protects gays and lesbians from discrimination in housing, employment, insurance, and lending--makes Washington the 17th state to add sexual orientation to anti-discrimination laws. (Maine, the subject of a recent Sweet Victory, also passed a similar law in November, becoming the final state in New England to ban anti-gay discrimination.)
"This victory is the product of decades of work by thousands of Washingtonians committed to equal treatment," said Fran Dunaway, executive director of Equal Rights Washington. "It really was a broad-based coalition of religious organizations, large and small businesses, civil rights groups, and concerned citizens pushing for change."
But an effort to overturn the bill is already underway. Conservative initiative sponsor Tim Eyman plans to collect a sufficient number of signatures to force a referendum at the ballots come fall. Dunaway says Equal Rights Washington and its allies are already mobilizing to protect the bill, and plan to "win again" in November. Click here to find out more about how you can assist the struggle for equality in Washington.
Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker, contributes to The Nation's new blog, The Notion, and co-writes Sweet Victories with Katrina vanden Heuvel.