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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Ann DeGroot's Message to the GLBT Community

OutFront Minnesota Founder/Executive Director Ann DeGroot Moving On

Dear Friends:

It is with a great deal of sadness that I write to you today to let you know that I have decided to leave OutFront Minnesota. My last day of work will be February 8. I am going to take a break for a couple of months before deciding what I might want to do next. And, I am going to spend a lot of time with my partner, Rhonda and son, Andy.

I know that many of you are aware of the fact that my partner has been dealing with a diagnosis of ovarian cancer for the last two years. In order to head off any rumors about my leaving that might have to do with her illness, let me assure you that she is doing very well. In fact, she is back at work as a consultant full time writing grant proposals for non-profit organizations whose missions she believes in.

I am leaving OutFront Minnesota in the hands of a very capable and committed staff. I have had the opportunity to work with these folks for some time now and I am amazed and delighted every day by them. In everything that they do they hold you, the community they serve, as the centerpiece. Their commitment to the GLBT community in the context of creating the best world possible for everyone never waivers. I hold them dear and in the greatest esteem. I hope you realize the treasure that they are. They are indeed Leading Minnesota Toward GLBT Equality.

It has been a very good 21 years for me. I am one of the fortunate few people who have had the opportunity to spend a chunk of my professional life contributing to something that I care very deeply about. And I have been able to do that work in Minnesota where real progress is made.

At one of the first meetings of the Gay and Lesbian Community Action Council (the original name of OutFront Minnesota) Board of Directors, one of the members looked around and said, "I think this is the first time that men and women have come together in such a positive and productive way for our community." While we had worked together before as gay men and lesbians, we had not come together as effectively and with as much common understanding. All of the work of the past came together at the time to move us into the next stage.

In 1987, the term transgender was not in common usage. The Gay and Lesbian Community Action Council (OutFront Minnesota) was the first organization in the country that included the term transgender in our mission statement. And we meant it. So much so that in 1993, the organizers of the "It's Time Minnesota" Campaign including Senator Allan Spear and Representative Karen Clark would not have seriously considered eliminating transgender folks from the amendment to the Human Rights Act. Turns out, Minnesota was the first state in the country to include gender identity in the State Human Rights Amendment.

In the late 1980's and early 1990's a small group of librarians sued the City of Minneapolis in order to get Domestic Partner Benefit health coverage just like their married co-workers. These women were brave and tough. They were also ahead of their time. Until then, the words "Domestic Partners" were rarely used. The Gay and Lesbian Community Action Council/OutFront Minnesota formed a Domestic Partners Task Force and lobbied the Minneapolis City Council to enact an ordinance allowing Domestic Partner Health Coverage for its city employees. The ordinance passed but in 1994, a resident of Minneapolis questioned the authority of the city to do so. He won in court and Minneapolis was forced to pull the benefits from their employees.

But that fight was the springboard to opening the door for many private corporations to offer domestic partner benefits. At last count, over 200 Minnesota businesses offer domestic partner benefits. I would never have believed that could happen when I started working here in 1987.

And we haven't given up on opening the door to municipalities being able to offer those benefits to their employees. Another bill is being written and considered again this year. We haven't given up. Never give up.

And who would have thought in 1987 that we would seriously be talking about same sex marriage (albeit in a defensive posture now) at this moment in time? Not only are we talking about it but we have successfully kept an anti same-sex marriage constitutional amendment off of the ballot since 2004. And now, all kinds of people commonly ask - why not civil unions? Maybe marriage isn't going to fly but we ought to have some way to recognize same sex relationships - perhaps civil unions are a good step. Wow!!! What a switch.

So many things have changed since 1987 that I can't count them. And so many more will change in the years to come. I measure change by watching the unabashed coming out of more people for GLBT equality, by watching how GLBT people are portrayed in the media, by listening to how the talk about GLBT people is changing each year and in each generation, and by assessing the rhetoric and activity of our opposition. While there is a lot left to do, there is great hope for the future.

I think that the next frontier is for us to understand and commit to full equality for everyone. This is not a new idea for many people but we have not reached critical mass as a GLBT community on this yet and we haven't figured out as a group what this will really mean. But I believe that if anyone is left behind it is not good enough. While I am committed and have worked for years for GLBT equality, I am equally committed to ending poverty, supporting racial justice, promoting women's equality, and in short, making a world in which everyone can be free and unencumbered. If we GLBT people have to wait a few years for full marriage equality but we can see that children have health care, then we should see that the effort for children's health care is one path to GLBT equality. In turn, when we view ourselves as a part of a whole progressive movement for change, others see us as their allies and partners and commit themselves to GLBT equality.

Seeing the connections with ourselves and others and figuring out what makes us go and what holds us back and then, working together through thick and thin is the key to this broader vision. It is hard work, personal work and it can be very frightening. But we have done so much, we can do this too.

Early on in my time here at OutFront Minnesota I was asked by a reporter to tell him what the gay agenda was and why should GLBT people have an interest in voting in a municipal election in Minneapolis when the city is already GLBT supportive. I told him that we were as interested in the condition of schools, whether or not the garbage was picked up and the economic development of the city as anyone.

We are part of the rest of the community. And they, as many PFLAG parents tell me all the time, are part of us.

OutFront Minnesota has helped lead the movement for GLBT equality in this state and will continue to do so. I will always be an active and engaged member of the GLBT community, and I look forward to seeing you out and about.

Thanks to all of you. Thanks for all you have taught me. And never lose faith.