Over the past year I've discussed issues of primary interest to the LGBT community, tailored both for members of the community and the public at large. Those issues were unique for the gay and trans communities, though they often had meaning beyond that narrow focus. Recently I've highlighted leaders -- Dan Choi, Shawn Skelly, Lynn Conway, Kellan Baker, Marci Bowers, Ted Eytan -- some of whom are relatively unknown, who make a difference not just for the LGBT segment of America but for all of us.
This column, and my work as an activist and advocate on these issues, is just a part of my life. I've never been "gay for pay," but have volunteered to create positive change for the entire LGBT community. Not only have I led efforts to successfully pass gender identity legislation in three Maryland counties and in the U.S Senate, as well as continuing to labor for the eighth consecutive year to pass a statewide bill, but I have worked on gay rights, from hate crimes and bullying to relationship recognition to, finally, marriage equality. I have labored on behalf of victims of same-sex intimate partner violence, and for full health care access and educational equality for trans Marylanders. I created a seminar on gender identity for health care providers, and I have supported a PFLAG parents' support group for a decade.
The other part is my work on behalf of the community at large, and my thesis this week is that such work at the intersection of various communities often is the most important and has the largest pay-off. After all, gay and trans persons need health care access just like everyone else, and access to clean drinking water and food that is not tainted by endocrine disruptors, fracking or coal-processing chemicals, pesticides, insecticides and herbicides. The entire American population deserves to eat food free of the toxic artificial trans fats, and also labeled to inform about genetically modified organisms used to create that food.
While we fight for equal employment opportunities free of discrimination, much work needs to be done to raise the minimum wage and provide paid sick leave and adequate family leave. These are progressive issues that are at the root of any fair and just society, and America needs to join the enlightened nations of the world. They impact gay and straight, cis and trans Americans equally. This week, when we celebrate Dr. King's birthday and his legacy, we redouble our efforts to create a constitutional right to vote, and we recognize that the prison-industrial complex, which is supported by the failure that is the four-decade-old war on drugs, disproportionately impacts persons of color. We still have 320,000 people in prison on drug offenses, many African-American and Hispanic.
We need to continue to promote gender equality and women's autonomy. The right to choose, the right to full bodily integrity, continues to get whittled away in this country, and that also disproportionately impacts poor communities.
I do my work because I want my children to live in a progressive America. When I was my sons' age, my hope for a future as an adult in a progressive nation was dashed when the Reagan "revolution" set in. I want them to have the future of which I dreamed, and I can sense that we are on the verge of a new progressive era. Similar to the eras of Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, then LBJ (and, yes, even Nixon), we are beginning the first progressive period of the 21st century. Slowly our elected officials are recognizing that the United States in general, and Maryland in particular, are center-left rather than center-right. It's been that way since World War II, but the perception is changing again in our favor. When the Maryland Senate President, an old-school Democrat, supports both gender identity protections and marijuana legalization, you know something has seriously changed for the better.
There are many people in the LGBT community who do this work, and I want to recognize them. I have the pleasure of having worked for years with Progressive Neighbors, the Progressive Working Group, and Progressive Maryland (notice a trend?) to change the agenda in our state. LGBT leaders -- Dan Furmansky, Jonathan Wood, Kate Planco Waybright, Morgan Meneses-Sheets, Mark McLaurin, Diego Sanchez, the Honorable Mark Scurti, gubernatorial candidate Delegate Heather Mizeur and her fellow gay delegates, Harry Knox, Fred Mason III, Evan Glass, Lisa Polyak, Patrick Wojahn, Steve Charing, and Sharon Brackett, among others -- work for progressive causes to benefit all, with great coincidental benefit to the LGBT community.
We are all one. When any minority group works on an issue of concern to a larger population, it has an opportunity to solidify its credibility as an integral part of the whole. More importantly, it gets to do the labor of love that directly benefits everyone, without regard to race, creed, color, ancestry, age, religion, gender, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, marital status, veteran's status or disability. That is my goal -- to do good, one day at a time. I am honored to work with so many who share that goal.