Wow. I can’t believe the experience I have had today. I had never been to the capital before and I just keep thinking about it and it just blows me away how I could just walk right in and be such a close witness to the political process. To watch as 30 years of work finally paid off, to stand 15 feet directly across from a podium as senators, the Governor, and other political leaders held a press conference. To feel the electricity as people cheered, hugged, and cried. To shake the Governor’s hand and tell her why I was there and to have her congratulate me. It was almost surreal.
Today the Washington State Senate passed HB2661, a human rights bill that prevents gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from being discriminated against in housing, employment, and insurance. Yes, it’s currently legal in this state to fire or evict someone simply because they are gay. I won’t go into my thoughts on all the arguments as they’ve been beaten to death by people who care much more about having a debate than I do, but I did witness several really powerful moments that I’d like to relate.
During the hour plus long debate, Senator Ore stood up and said this was a really personal issue and held up a framed picture of his daughter. He said that his daughter had chosen to "live the lesbian lifestyle" (Gretchen I know you are cringing). She wanted to come visit him and he said, "Sure, I’ll send you a ticket." She asked if she could bring her partner. He said, "No, you can’t come if you bring your partner. I don’t want that in my house." The way he said "that" was so full of disgust that those of us in the gallery were audibly taken aback. And how sad that they have such a troubled relationship – it is a tragedy for her and a tragedy for him. He actually called it "tough love" like she was a drug addict or something.
Another Republican woman Senator related how her sister-in-law, who she loved very much, was a lesbian and that she had worked very hard and had retired quite nicely and had a great life. The Senator then said that the bill was unnecessary because her sister-in-law had not suffered from any discrimination. That remark was just so unbelievable that there was an audible gasp mixed with laughter. If that’s the best she could come up with, this should be an easy fight.
Of course there was the standard rhetoric that the bill promotes homosexuality to 5-year-olds, that we are discriminating against people whose religions dictate that homosexuality is immoral, and that it’s endorsing gay marriage. Most of these things were said by the Republicans, but there was a really nice moment with the Republican Senator Finkbeiner stood up in defense of the bill. He had voted no the year before and was widely considered the swing vote this year. When he turned towards the cameras to make a point, shutters went off in great succession. It was a pivotal moment.
The last testimony that was really quite moving was Preacher Lady’s Senator, Paull Shin. He told stories of growing up as an orphan and the abuse and discrimination he suffered because he is Korean. He made a great point that he always thought of himself as a colored man but today he thought of himself as a man.
After the long debate there was the vote. It passed 25-23. Even though the speaker had told us not to have any audible reaction, there were wild cheers and applause from the galleries.
Then the bill went back to the House for confirmation. It was confirmed and this time the cheers started on the floor and everyone was hugging and patting each other on the back. It was over, finally.
Leave it to me to be at the right place at the right time and run into the Governor and the bill’s sponsor Rep. Ed Murray walking to their press conference. I walked into the press conference room right behind them and actually got a great spot right next to an NBC camera, about 15 feet directly across from the podium. They introduced the late Senator Cal Anderson’s partner, who was trying not to get too choked up, and he said that Cal was looking down and was very happy.
After the press conference was over, Gov Christine Gregoire walked by me and I introduced myself, told her where I worked, and said that after what happened last year I just had to be there today. She said that Microsoft had really come through this year and I agreed and I thanked her for her hard work and she congratulated me.
Holy cow, what a day. Of course I took lots of pictures.
Wow, that was history.
I have to admit I hadn’t ever seen the legislature in action and I was impressed by their efficiency. I had always ruled out a future in politics (not as a politician but as some piece of the process) but now I’m not so sure it would be out of the question.
Oh! And I was on the radio again this morning too – I called to tell the Mountain Morning Show crew that I was headed down to Olympia to watch the vote and that there would be parties across the state tonight. They played our conversation on the air at 8:20am and then went into a little bit about what music gay people like to party to which was kind of funny. Lee said that the sisters like to party to the sisters and played some chanting music sung by nuns. Guess you had to be there 😉
I need a nap.