Photo: Point Alumnus Jesse Gilliam, Point Scholar Rachel Jackson, Point Alumnus and Trustee Pete Subkoviak, Point Scholar Ryan Karnoski and Hill Landon Wolfe
I recently had the wonderful opportunity to attend Victory Fund’s second annual Champagne Brunch, a benefit in Seattle that raises support for LGBT politicians who are running for office. It was very moving to hear the stories of candidates and current elected officials, especially those of being “Firsts.” I love the idea of progressive “Firsts,” when those firsts have come about through the efforts of proud, conscionable, and extraordinarily competent public servants.
For example, one of the speakers at the brunch was Judge Mary Yu, the first lesbian and woman of color elected to Washington State’s Supreme Court. At a time when being openly LGBT is rapidly becoming more widely accepted in the eyes of the public, it is obvious that our representative government is also reflective of our community’s presence in the general population; a reality making these “firsts” both inevitable and all the more necessary.
With only a handful of openly LGBT people in Congress, it is especially notable that after Tammy Baldwin became the first out LGBT person elected to the Senate last year, her successor in Wisconsin’s state legislature, Mark Pocan, is also an out gay public servant. At the Victory Fund brunch, Pocan recounted an inspiring story of his time working with Gay Straight Alliances in Wisconsin. A student there told him that all his life, he felt like he would never amount to anything because he was gay. Then, after witnessing two LGBT people get elected to office in Wisconsin, the student realized that out LGBT people could “Be somebody.”
As I listened to Pocan speak, I looked around the room. As a young transgender person, I don’t get many opportunities to spend time with other people who have experienced many of the same difficulties and barriers that I have. But at the Victory Fund brunch I was among many transgender people who have and are doing outstanding things for the community. Simply being here at the brunch – invited because of my affiliation with Point Foundation, and through the generosity of Tina Podlodowski, who donated seats so that we could share this experience-- I feel encouraged. Gestures like this validate that I, as a queer/trans person can “Be somebody.”
I often think about how lucky I feel to live in Washington State, specifically in the city of Seattle, where our mayor, Ed Murray, is an out gay person with a vested interest in the progression of civil rights advances and equality for the LGBT community. During this brunch, I had an epiphany that when elected officials do a commendable job representing the general population and an underrepresented community, it is something worthy of celebration.
The French toast, coffee and Champagne at the brunch were all delicious, yet the greatest part of what I took away from this event was that there are more firsts to be had, especially for those of us doing activist work. It was invigorating to be in the company of people who work tirelessly to support advances for the LGBT community -- people who, above all odds, fight systems of oppression which alienate underserved communities, be it in the streets, in classrooms, prisons, or political offices. So when a seat opens up at the breakfast table, invite somebody who may not have had a chance to sit there. Everybody deserves to feel like they can be somebody, and they might just end up being a “First.”
|This post was written by Point Scholar Ryan Karnoski
||Ryan Karnoski was born and raised in Edmonds, Washington. Having identified as queer from an early age, he has had many experiences with the intersections of queerness, disability, and poverty that have shaped his identity as a proponent for advocacy and social justice. He is currently studying Spanish and Social Welfare at the University of Washington, and hopes to use this interdisciplinary educational background to serve as an advocate for the LGBTQ and Disability Communities in his future career endeavors. Learn more about Ryan.