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May 18, 2007
SGN.org
Volume 35
Issue 20
 
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LGBT advocates claim victory this legislative session
LGBT advocates claim victory this legislative session
"...[T]hese bills represent significant positive movement and would have been unimaginable a few years ago," said Equal Rights Washington's Joshua Friedes.

by Lisa Walls - SGN Contributing Writer

The state's LGBT community, its allies, and equality-minded legislators have much to celebrate at the end of the 2007 session in Olympia. This was the most productive session ever for passage of legislation important the LGBT community. And unlike last year's exciting session, with the Anderson-Murray anti-discrimination bill passing (after a 29 year campaign), this past session saw the passage of the Domestic Partnership bill the first time it was introduced.

Equal Rights Washington's Advocacy Director, Joshua Friedes, said, "Although the Domestic Partnership Bill was the most high profile bill in the community, many other bills and budget items passed that were on ERW's legislative agenda. Bills and budget items important to persons living with HIV/AIDS, LGBT parents, the Transgender community, and to protecting LGBT youth all passed this session.

In addition to legislative victories, we also saw an important victory in the rules-making process, where the Pharmacy Board adopted a rule requiring pharmacists to fill prescriptions even when they have a moral disagreement with it. The darkest spot during the session occurred when DSHS adopted a rule that would deny Medicaid coverage of medically necessary sex reassignment surgery. Over 800 ERW advocates contacted DSHS to urge the agency to continue coverage."

Highlights of the session included passage of the DP bill, the Healthy Youth Act, The Family Medical Leave bill, the Cyber Bullying bill, and a bill aimed at requiring fair implementation of the Real ID Act. "Of course, none of these bills are perfect," said Friedes. "The DP bill offers important, but very limited protections; the Family Medical Leave bill is restricted to coverage for births and adoptions; and the Cyber Bullying bill only covers online bullying if it's committed on campus--but all these bills represent significant positive movement and would have been unimaginable a few years ago."

The session's success reflects ERW's commitment to working in coalition with many organizations and interests. "I think many people only associate ERW with the fight for marriage equality. In actuality, we have a broad-based legislative agenda that includes youth, seniors, HIV/AIDS, healthcare, Transgender equality, family recognition and protection, and much more," said Friedes. "Many members of our community are immigrants, women, people of color, people of faith, and small business owners; we can work together to achieve common goals, especially when we recognize we're all connected."

One piece of legislation that affected many different populations was the bill aimed at fair implementation of the Real ID Act-it was of import to the Transgender community and the immigrant community. The ACLU of Washington led the effort to pass this bill, and ERW supported it. ERW also supported legislation that would lead to high immunization rates against HPV, the virus that has been linked to cervical cancer. Lesbian health needs are often neglected, and ERW was pleased to work with Planned Parenthood and all the other groups that championed successful HPV vaccine measures in the legislature. The GSBA lobbied strategically to explain why the Domestic Partnership bill was good for businesses, and many organizations carried information about the DP bill during their lobby days in Olympia.

"Different groups took the lead on different bills, so often times ERW didn't have to expend that much effort to pass a particular bill or budget item," said Friedes "When asked, we were able to send out action alerts, or our lobbyist, Carey Morris, was able to devote more time to moving a measure. This type of orchestration allowed for greater efficiency and was a major factor to this session's success."

Amazing sessions like this past one don't happen by themselves. While ERW lobbied hard and worked in coalition with other organizations and legislators to win on many fronts, Friedes gives the 2006 election victories and legislative leaders much of the credit.

The 2006 election brought many new equality-minded legislators to Olympia, and many opponents of LGBT civil rights, such as Luke Esser and Brad Benson, lost their seats. Openly Gay legislators led the charge for equality in Olympia, and were upfront with their colleagues that the Domestic Partnership bill did not meet the legal or emotional needs of Gay individuals and families.

Having an openly Gay man like Ed Murray in the Senate changed the dynamic in that chamber. The addition of Jamie Pedersen, a long-time marriage advocate and respected attorney, added additional gravitas to an already powerful Gay delegation in the House, comprised of Representatives Jim Moeller, Dave Upthegrove and Joe McDermott. Not many states can boast a Governor, House Speaker, and Senate Majority Leader as equality-minded as Washington's.

Nathan Riding, ERW's Field Organizer, said, "Even though the session's over, ERW will still work to engage advocates across the state to increase visibility of LGBT families and individuals, and continue the dialogue about securing full marriage equality for the LGBT community. ERW is also working with many other organizations to educate the community about the new Domestic Partnership law."

People will be able to start registering for domestic partnerships on July 23rd. Lambda Legal, the ACLU of Washington, the Northwest Women's Law Center, ERW, and other groups are in the process of preparing materials that will help couples identify issues to consider before they register.

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