Jimmie Beall worked as a teacher in a high school in Ohio's London City School District, teaching her students about topics such as government and law to prepare them for the wider world. Just after offering her a three-year contract, the school district rescinded its offer and fired Beall -- because they became aware that she was a lesbian. She sued the district and won, becoming a leading voice in support of employment nondiscrimination laws in the state, though such laws have yet to pass both houses of the state's legislature.
Brian Breuning and his husband, Frederique Boudouani, after years together, were finally able to marry in their home state when Iowa legalized same-sex marriage in 2009. Says Boudouani, "It's a human-rights issue. We're not talking about religious issues ... I came here [from Algeria] to live my life. I came here in the pursuit of happiness ... And I wish that would be across the board for all of us." Today, Brian and Frederique are happily married -- but they are concerned that the state's social conservatives might someday succeed in repealing same-sex marriage in the state, particularly after the successful 2010 effort to oust three of the Iowa Supreme Court judges who ruled same-sex marriage into law.
These are just two of the stories featured in the latest episode of the LGBT newsmagazine In the Life, focusing on the state of LGBT rights in Iowa and Ohio. As the head of the Equality Federation, a national network of state-level LGBT advocacy organizations, I am proud to help tell these stories.
In 2009 In the Life Media's executive director, Michelle Kristel, first presented to the Equality Federation the idea of a recurring segment on In the Life, a series, titled "In the States," documenting the state-level battles for LGBT rights. Each segment would focus on the LGBT-rights issues most pertinent in that state, from marriage equality to employment discrimination to bullying in schools.
To date, four of these segments have been produced, for Iowa, Ohio, New York, and Florida. And in keeping with In the Life Media's mission to tell stories that move us closer to true equality, they are not just reporting news. "In the States" has done more than just make these issues visible and tell the stories of people like Jimmie, Brian, and Frederique: It has been a vital resource for those on the front lines of LGBT equality.
With a dysfunctional Congress and a conservative Supreme Court, most of the advances to be made in LGBT equality over the next few years will happen on a state and local level. This is precisely why organizations like One Iowa and Equality Ohio, which are profiled in the latest In the Life episode, are so important: They are fighting what are arguably the most crucial battles in the country for LGBT equality. But many of these organizations lack the resources of larger, national LGBT advocacy organizations. Through "In the States," Michelle and In the Life Media have done them a crucial service. These organizations now have media tools that they otherwise might not be able to afford.
How has footage from "In the States" been used? For Equality Ohio, clips from the episode greatly helped in fundraising and promotion of Lobby Day, when people from around the state traveled to the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus to lobby their representatives to support the nondiscrimination bill. Thanks to the video, they were able to recruit nearly 300 volunteers. In New York In the Life revealed how the marriage victory was secured: by collaborating across the aisle and across racial and cultural barriers to win equality, setting a road map for other states. And in Iowa the video galvanized activists as a call for vigilance: to depict the threats to marriage equality in a state that already has it, and thus demonstrating that our liberties cannot be taken for granted.
We have a long way to go. We have only a fraction of the resources that those who would deny us our equality possess. But In the Life Media will keep on giving a voice to those in states that do not always rank very high on the agenda of national LGBT organizations. I know that they will keep on doing what they do best: telling stories that not only inform and enlighten people but empower people around the country to take a stand for equality. As Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal says in the episode, explaining his support for marriage equality, "People have given me stories about what their lives are like ... I don't want it to be about me and what I believe. I want it to be about real human beings there and how their lives are different." For it is these very stories that have the power to make others understand the simple truth: we are just people who want to be treated equally.