by Doug Hamilton -
SGN Contributing Writer
Washington State Representative Laurie Jinkins jokingly refers to herself as 'The Lesbian Mafia' because it is kind of hard to be a one-member mafia. But she is the only estrogen representative of the five elected officials who form the so-called 'LGBT caucus' of openly Gay or Lesbian State Legislators in Olympia - the others being State Senators Jamie Pedersen and Marko Liias, State Representative Jim Moeller and newly appointed State Representative Brady Walkinshaw.
Laurie is busy post-session preparing for her April 23rd campaign kickoff, a bid for a third term in the 27th Legislative District, where she's just served two consecutive 2-year terms. As she runs for re-election this time, she faces a very different political landscape. The SGN contacted Representative Jinkins and asked her how this time around will be different from 2012.
Washington's 27th Legislative District includes most of northern Tacoma, which despite The Advocate giving Tacoma the title of 'Gayest City in America' in 2012, is a port city with its share of blue-collar workers, and an economy more dependent upon shipping and export. Tacoma bore the brunt of the Great Recession much as the rest of the state and nation did, with lots of lay-offs and slowly returning jobs. Jinkins has been challenged with representing her district with an unapologetically progressive agenda in a long cycle of budget shortfalls. And while the economy seems to have turned the corner, budget issues still loom large in Olympia. Fortunately, perhaps because of the influence of labor unions, her district is one of the most progressive in the State.
Washington State Representative Laurie Jinkins live a life like many busy working mothers. Her Facebook posts are full of tales of juggling life as a representative with her home life with her wife, Laura Wulf, and their son, Wulf - laundry, family meals, shopping trips, and school performances figuring prominently in the mix. When I called her for this interview, Representative Jinkins had just returned from a doctor's visit for Wulf, who was suffering from a nose and ear infection. Despite her busy schedule, she very graciously agreed to my phone interview, and we spoke for nearly half an hour.
Doug Hamilton: What is at stake for the average voter in the upcoming Washington State elections? What issues do you feel LGBTQ+ people and their allies should be primarily concerned about in this election cycle?
Laurie Jinkins: Our margins in the house are getting slimmer, and we have a Republican controlled Senate. So I think for LGBT people in particular, for instance, we weren't able to pass the ban on reparative therapy this year [the bill would have made it illegal for licensed medical or mental health providers to try to convert a minor's sexual orientation], and we need to have a Democratic Senate, and a more Democratic controlled House, if we are going to do some of the really big things we want. That was just an example of an LGBT issue.
I think in the grand scheme of things the biggest issue in my book is not being able to have a rational dialogue at all about how we generate revenue in the state of Washington, and what we need to do about it. We're not able to have a rational dialogue about closing loopholes that don't do anybody in the state any good. We are not able to talk about how regressive our tax system is, and how the poorest people end up paying the highest percentage of their income in taxes, and instead move to something that's more progressive, like having a capital gains tax like 47 other states do, how are we going to fund our K-12 education system, which is a moral obligation that we have to our children. We are just not able to realistically talk about any of those things, because for the most part we have a Republican Senate, which refuses to engage in any kind of discussion about revenue or taxation.
Hamilton: Do you feel that this is an ideological polarity, and that there is not really an opportunity for a strong moderate influence to come forward?
Jinkins: Yes, I do think it is ideological, absolutely. An absolute ideological split. When you have the number of members of the House and Senate on the Republican side who sign Grover Norquist's Pledge that they will never change or raises taxes at all, what kind of dialogue can you have?
That piece has actually been very educational for me. Because it is one of the reasons that I decided I don't sign pledges of any type, even if I totally believe what the pledge is, I just don't believe in signing them, because you just never know where the point of compromise is, or when it may come, or if you are going to be able to have dialogue, and if there may be a solution that you haven't thought of before. So I think it is just very hard to have any dialogue that is rational whatsoever.
There is certainly a number of things that I might be willing to do that in my progressive district, the voters in this district would support. In other districts they wouldn't. When we look at school levies and park levies, and we see what happens in Seattle on this transportation initiative, the voters are not saying they don't want to pay for anything. So the voters are willing to pay more taxes, and the voters have made it very clear that they do not like some of the loopholes that we have. But when we have elected officials who are not even willing to engage in that conversation, it makes it hard to move forward.
Hamilton: In the 80s and 90s HIV/AIDS became the LGBTQ movement's signature cause, and then the issue of marriage equality united the LGBTQ community from the year 2000 to the present. What do you see as the next impetus for LGBTQ community action?
Jinkins: I think that it will be interesting, and it is hard to say. Both of those topics were so huge, that it is a little bit hard to think of what LGBT issues there are that are that huge. I will tell you that two of the things that I am working on, that I don't think are small, and they relate to kids especially being subjected to reparative therapy, which I absolutely know is damaging to them, both as kids, and as they become adults. And so, figuring out how to address that. My personal feeling is that the issue of Transgender access to real healthcare services that they deserve should be a huge issue for the community.
Now honestly, I feel like the LGBT community, as well as many others, should be as interested in the issues of income equality as anybody, but I think that remains. It is just so interesting. For all the years I've been involved in the LGBT community, I see the community as much more involved on issues that almost exclusively impact the LGBT community. And once it starts to affect a broader community, too, I see our community kind of drift away more, and not feel the linkages. Which is a long way of saying 'I don't know.'
Hamilton: I would agree with that analysis that there certainly is not a front-and-center issue at this time. Social economic justice is there as an issue on the burner, and there are people in our community who are aware of that, and who are working on it. But it doesn't seem to have really captured the imagination of the general supporter who could see really directly how marriage would affect them, or how in the past HIV/AIDS was such a huge crisis. It seems like really we need to have a crisis that we can really rally around before they are willing to get out of their comfort zones.
There are some other things which are developing, which are these religious exemptions to anti-discrimination laws. And we've seen them defeated state-by-state. Notably with Governor Brewer's veto in Arizona, but we've also seen them pass in Mississippi. Is there any movement like that we should be aware of, and what can we do to educate ourselves and counteract it going forward?
Jinkins: Certainly, Senator Padden, who is chair of the Law and Justice Committee, filed a bill just like that this year in the Washington state Senate. So I think we have to keep our eyes wide-open and watch for that and make sure that we are prepared to help people understand what these bills are about, because they usually, like Senator Padden's bill, just says basically, that of all the other rights in Washington - be they in the State Constitution, or in law - the primary one is freedom of religion, and it should take precedence over everything.
That doesn't really sound bad to people when they look at it, and when they just think about it in passing, until they start to realize, oh, that can be used if you are in business, and you say 'I don't want to serve a Lesbian and Gay people because of my faith, then that takes precedence. And I can do that, if I don't want to serve people of color.' We've had that in Washington, and we've been able to actually kill the bill in a place where it wasn't able to move out of committee at all.
Hamilton: That is the thing, how bills can die in committee. That's exactly what happened to the ban on Gay conversion therapy, or 'sexual orientation change efforts.' I think that is really hard for people on the outside to understand how something can pass almost unanimously in one body, and then go to committee, and one person can just simply say 'no,' and that's that.
There was the thing that happened with funding for homelessness. The funding related to when people filed their title in real estate transactions, the $40 recording fee. And there actually was enough of a public outcry that they were able to pluck it from committee, and say that that bill was necessary to pass the budget. But that type of thing is very rare. Do you think it was the political outcry that caused that to actually get past the committee system?
Jinkins: Yeah, I think there is no doubt. But we should learn and understand that that works both ways, right? So there's the bill Senator Angel thought she had killed in committee, and she didn't, and we ended up being able to pass it. Not in the form that many of us wanted, but it will continue to address homelessness. The LGBT community should be very thoughtful and paying attention. Every bill that you think is dead, it might not always be dead. And there are a lot of the processes the legislature can do to make things seem one way, when in fact they may be another way. And we should really pay attention to that.
I think the other thing we should be paying attention to is the U.S. Supreme Court right now in the Hobby Lobby case, which is the case in which a private business says, 'I don't want to offer my female employees reproductive health services. I don't even want to offer them a limited number of services. I don't want to offer abortion, which you are not required to do under federal law, but now I don't want to offer them the opportunity to obtain contraception and stuff like that. Even though I am in a business, my religious views should prevail.' If the Supreme Court agrees with that, that's essentially tantamount to agreeing to the Arizona religious freedom laws that you referred to.
Hamilton: The Supreme Court hasn't actually issued a ruling on the Hobby Lobby case that I'm aware of. . .
Jinkins: No, they won't yet, but we should be watching that case though, and the decision will come out by the end of June. So in the next couple of months, we will know.
Hamilton: It really does seem to be where the lines are being drawn, as far as the opposition, or far right are doing. It is as though they see marriage is no longer a winnable front for them, so they are saying, 'Okay, so we're just going to etch out huge swaths of places where it is okay for us to be able to practice discrimination and use it in the guise of religious freedom.'
Jinkins: It will be really interesting to watch those cases, because I think, and I'm talking a little bit out of school here, but I think that there was the New Mexico case, which they decided not to hear, in which it was a photography or baker or floral case, in which a provider did not want to provide services to a Lesbian or Gay couple in their wedding, because of their religious beliefs, and that the lower court said, 'No. You are required to because you are open, you are a public accommodation, you are a business.' And they appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court said, 'We're not going to hear the case.'
When the Supreme Court says they are not going to hear the case, I guess they could think either they are going to deal with this issue in the Hobby Lobby case, or they are saying, 'No, you have to, if you are going to be open to the public, you've got to be open to the public, and you have to follow the non-discrimination laws.' So, we'll know by June.
Hamilton: The City of Seattle just announced they would begin collecting sexual orientation and gender identity statistics on their employees in order to analyze pay discrepancies. Is there any movement like that for the state of Washington? Do we have any idea how many LGBTQ homeless people there are in Washington state, for instance?
Jinkins: I don't know that I'm aware of too much of what the state of Washington is doing. The other place we can look is to somewhat get a sense of this is through the Census data, nationally that would help us. I think those are really very valid questions, and I think you and I both know, that historically, this has been one of the arguments about Lesbian and Gay people, is that we're wealthy, right? We're a wealthy population, and therefore, we shouldn't have anti-discrimination laws, and stuff like that, because obviously we are so rich. Which, when all of that data is looked at, shows that this is a very skewed, and not at all scientifically accurate.
So I think it is worthwhile to pursue looking at demographic data. More typically, we would try to do that though through the U.S. Census would be the place that would help us most find that, because that's the thing that ties to income. But because Washington state doesn't have its own income tax, we actually do not, on a statewide level, have the most comprehensive data on income by race, or by any other category. We usually want to get the gross statistics for income in Washington state. And I think most states actually do.
Hamilton: I've gotten complaints from Transgender individuals dealing with the DSHS who very strongly feel that there is a bias within the institution. For instance, how custody judges would adjudicate child custody cases if a member of the family that was being split up was undergoing a transition.
I've also submitted a rule change request to the DSHS, whereby we could get some idea of who the people who are using the DSHS services are in terms of gender identity or sexual orientation. And their response was 'Well, there really is no requirement that we do so, and we don't have the resources. So no.' And this is also a controversial question, because of confidentiality and privacy issues involved around sexual orientation.
We understand that there are a lot of barriers, but we also feel that this is new, this hasn't been asked for on a statewide level, and a lot of readers and supporters do not really understand the process of how a new idea actually comes to fruition. We saw that with marriage - marriage wasn't always by popular support. So I was wondering if you could kind of speak to the process of how best specifically to engage to work for a specific change.
Jinkins: You mean collecting data?
Hamilton: Well yes, that as an example. Or just getting a law changed. Kind of like 'Lobbying 101' or 'I'm just a bill' kind of thing, in terms of if it is something that is really happening on an institutional level that members of the community look at and say 'this is not fair.' When you go for redress, the people who are the department heads or bureaucrats are going to point to the laws and regulations that are attached to their funding, and say, 'We have no reporting requirement, so no, we are not going to produce that report, or collect that data.'
Jinkins: It is interesting that you ask that question, because we had one of these issues just this year. My seatmate, Jake Fey, had a bill that would have required Washington state to do a count of homeless children under school age. Because right now, once a kid gets into the K-12 system, we do count them, and we do know we have 30,000 kids who are homeless in our K-12 system, which is I think, an extraordinarily high number. But we don't know about the kids who are younger than that.
So Fey proposed a bill, it passed the House, it did not pass the Senate. Interestingly, somebody else proposed a bill to count the number of children associated with military families, which did pass the House and Senate. I think that was a good thing to do, but it is very interesting to me that it seemed to be more controversial to count homeless kids, than it was to county military kids. And people seem to be more interested in providing funding for one set of those, versus the other.
And it is very, very true that not knowing numbers is one of the primary reasons why legislators say, 'We can't do anything because we don't know enough about this.' So, one of the reasons to not do anything about something is to just kind of take a blind eye to it. And to make sure on a policy basis we do not count them. We don't count Gay and Lesbian homeless youth, or we don't count Gay and Lesbian couples, or the number of Transgender folks who aren't getting access to the healthcare that they need. Things like that.
The first step for making them policy change issues is really knowing who the population being affected is. Because even though in small areas like that, I think you make a very good point. We should know and understand that just having solid demographic and good data helps us move a policy forward, and it is those small steps that help us take bigger steps.
Hamilton: It is a lot more of a long, drawn out process than probably the average citizen has that much patience for. Looking at the social changes that we've accomplished, it seems that people like yourself who have been willing to take a long view, and be very tenacious about the step-by-step process have achieved great results. And you are really looked up to in our community as somebody who is just very effective in a quietly, competent way.
And so, I'm just wondering, looking at the younger generation that is very tuned into social media, and kind of has this 'push button' activism, what advice would you give to them in terms of how to change the world or the culture, and where to start? Because it can seem really overwhelming if you don't understand how the system works.
Jinkins: Well, first off I would say that one of the things I love doing at the end of every session, I think that at least for the last three, if not all four, that I've been in, is that I go down after a bill signing, and I just talk to the people crowd about what bill they are there for to see signed, and why it is important to them, and how they got involved with that bill.
And the thing I think of that is great is how you see that sometimes it is lobbyists there, and for some bills it is only lobbyists, but for the most part what you see is regular people who aren't lobbyists, who aren't legislators, and aren't necessarily all that politically active in the world. But there are people who found an important issue that they connected to, they went and talked to a legislator about and through that were able to find a legislative champion, and then they worked on the issue very persistently.
I had one group of people who had been working on a bill since 1999 that passed this year. 15 years. Another guy that had been working on a bill that related to children's health status. He had been coming down for three years, and he finally got it through. Another woman who had been working on disability issues ever since her son was born. And he is actually now deceased, but lived into adulthood. And she had been working every year to make sure that changes happened, having different degrees of success.
First of all, I would tell people that they should never think it is as hard or complicated as people lead them to believe. That believing in something, believing in it strongly, and advocating for it are two things that most people do not ever do. But then, once you do that, then you find the way to do it.
I think that Facebook and Twitter are two of lots of social media tools that you can use to get people interested, but the other thing that I always tell people is that there is a vast difference between people being interested in a topic, and liking what your post is on Facebook, or re-tweeting your message, and people who are voting.
As you start to get more politically involved on an issue, you do start to realize those kinds of things. You want to first choose an issue that you want to really work on it, and third be able to get the word out, and depending upon who is voting on it the issue - be it the legislators, or if it's the general public, you have to be really engaged, think about who is voting on this, when will they vote on it, whether they care about it, and how do I engage with them.
And social media is one way to do it. And I think it is awesome. Facebook was really new when I was running the first time, and I just loved it when I would go out doorbelling all day, and there would be a lot of people who were not home, and I would come back at night, and I'd have two or three friend requests from people who said I'd left literature at their door, and they were going to vote for me. So, that was totally fun, and great.
Now I'm not sure if they did or not, but they'd go on my GOTV [get out the vote] list, so I think they did. So it can work, and I'm not the smartest on using it. I mean there's a lot more people, like the Obama campaign, that obviously have done the most work on it nationally on knowing how to leverage these tools. But I would say we didn't do too bad.
Hamilton: You've brought up another question, and that is how the 2014 elections are going to differ from the 2012 elections. Because at that point, we had marriage on the ballot, and there was a huge GOTV effort behind that which benefited the progressive candidates as well. We won't have that this year. Is that going to make it a more challenging election for you?
Jinkins: Probably not for me personally. I'm from probably one of the five most progressive districts in the state. But, it will be hard to get voters to turn out in an off-year election like this.
We have very, very important Senate and House races that will make the difference between how much progress the Lesbian and Gay community can make, and how much they can't in terms of law-making and legislative action. And even in being able to kill bad bills that come forward.
So, we are going to have to work really hard, and be very focused in particular districts. The 28th District is one, which is down here in Pierce County, and the 26th District. Pierce County is going to kind of be the epicenter for important races this year. We are lucky because we have Brady Walkinshaw who was just appointed, so we have an openly Gay member hopefully being elected to the 43rd District.
But we also have an open Lesbian running in the 28th, Christine Kilduff, and for the Senate we have former Kirkland Mayor Joan McBride, an open Lesbian, running in the 48th, and since Rodney Tom has dropped out of that race, Joan has a good chance of winning.
So, we've got two open Lesbians running, one in the House, one in the Senate, and a Gay man making his first run. So we have the opportunity to make progress, and it is tiresome to be the only member of the Lesbian Mafia. So I'd really like to have more members join me.
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