Lobbying for Change on LGBTQ History Month
This month LGBTQ advocates across the globe are celebrating LGBTQ History Month. What better way to celebrate this month than to keep the spirit of the LGBTQ activists that came before us than by lobbying Congress for positive and lasting change? That’s exactly how I welcomed October, by joining the National LGBTQ Task Force and Immigration Equality during this year’s ACTober lobby days organized by League of United Latino American Citizens (LULAC). For me, it was truly an honor for me to join LULAC, one of the nation’s oldest and largest Latino civil rights groups, at the daylong effort to push members of Congress to support the Equality Act, the Runaway Homeless Youth Act, the Safer Schools Improvement Act, and to call on the Department of Homeland Security to stop the unsafe detention of undocumented LGBTQ immigrants.
I’ve been on a number of lobby trips before but this has been by far one of the best organized. We started our day around 6:30 a.m. with a breakfast for all lobby day participants from across the country. I was a little worried (and still half asleep) when I joined a table of strangers who all appeared to know each other for years and were already deep into a thoughtful conversation about the upcoming 2016 election. I was hesitant to speak up since, as a white male of European decent, I already felt like an outsider and my coffee hadn’t quite kicked in yet. Soon the conversation turned to social movement theory and the cyclical nature of history. As an aspiring history buff, my ears perked up and I was soon part of the conversation. Our fruitful dialogue ended all too quickly as everyone was called into a separate room for introductions and basic training.
During the welcome remarks, I was pleasantly surprised to see at least three past LULAC presidents and nearly every generation present among the hundred attendees. Soon we were all placed into two separate teams that focused on LGBTQ initiatives on the LULAC national policy platform. Within our team, we each selected one or two issues we felt comfortable speaking on behalf of – ranging from LGBTQ homelessness, LGBTQ student safety, and immigration policy. We were given some convincing talking points and encouraged to share our personal stories—and wow did our stories matter.
Up next were our meetings on the hill. Each team visited between three and six Congressional offices and spoke with either Representatives or the Representative’s staff. I found that while the facts we shared were important, it was our personal stories that left a lasting impression. Many of the Representatives were sympathetic to our issues and also the dozens if not hundreds of other issues that come to their attention. What they needed was a gentle push and prod from us to have them prioritize our issues – the essential effectiveness of many lobby days. From my experience, lobbying rarely “flips” a candidate from one side of an issue to another. Instead, it galvanizes those on the fence into taking real action. Once committed, what they needed was our stories that they can share with the public and other members of Congress. Yet telling our stories wasn’t only for them. We did it for ourselves and each other. There’s something cathartic about telling your story–it’s healing and self-rejuvenating. It grounds you in the meaning of our work. Furthermore, sharing our stories formed a formidable bond between members of my team. There’s an intimacy you create when you reach down into your gut and weave a story that is your truth. And that truth is powerful.
This month, as we continue celebrating LGBTQ History Month, I encourage everyone to educate others about our rich cultural history but to also share their stories with their lawmakers. Remember, it’s their job to listen!
By Adam Waxelbaum, Executive Assistant to the Deputy Executive Director