Midwest Leaders Strategize for Winning Equality in the Heartland

December 3, 2014

Last month I had the honor and pleasure of gathering with Federation members from our Midwest cohort at the annual Midwest Leadership Summit in Chicago.

As part of our State Leadership Project, the Midwest Leadership Summit is a chance to share strategies, network, and plan for collaboration in the year to come.

With the help of member organization Equality Illinois, we brought together more than 25 leaders from all over the heartland for three days of peer learning and leadership development training.

But the Summit is not only a time for learning -- it is also an opportunity to celebrate.

Since our meeting last year, six Midwest states have acquired marriage, and five more are running campaigns to win statewide and local nondiscrimination laws!

Amidst all of the progress, one thing stood out to me the most: the determination to keep working beyond these big wins. In a “Beyond Marriage” visioning session, state leaders emphasized that despite the positive effect that marriage is having on their states, they see evidence every day that the work toward full equality, both legal and lived, is not done.

Equality Federation members remain committed to creating safe and welcoming spaces for students, to making health care access a priority, to investing in racial and economic justice, and to working in rural areas to make sure progress comes to all communities that LGBTQ folks call home.

What’s more, not only are these groups committed to this work, it is already happening. And at the Midwest Leadership Summit, members were given the unique opportunity to share this work.

The chance to share and hear from leaders in other states is a valuable aspect of the conference for everyone, especially first-time conference attendees like Sam Gehler, Organizing Director at Equality Pennsylvania, who said:

"I had a great experience at my first Midwest Leadership Summit! I enjoyed meeting and learning from our counterparts in other Midwestern states, and talking about how to combine political and educational initiatives to pass nondiscrimination legislation. It made me even more excited to go back to Pennsylvania and apply our conversations to Equality PA's Campaign for Fairness to bring statewide nondiscrimination protections to our own state."

But it is not only staff members who found the conference rewarding. For Editha Paras, Board Treasurer at Equality Illinois, the conference was useful for her role on the board as well:

“I found the two-day conference informative and engaging! As a new Equality Illinois board member, the event was very helpful for me to gain a deeper understanding of the issues that EQIL and sister organizations are facing. Hearing the experiences of other organizations and the sharing of ideas/tactics was enriching.”

The Federation is proud to support the work for LGBT equality in the Midwest, and to bring leaders - staff and board alike - together.

We still don’t have a perfect roadmap to what LGBT equality work looks like beyond big milestones like marriage and nondiscrimination, but together -- as a Federation -- on the ground and at convenings like the Midwest Leadership Summit, we are charting that vital and hopeful course.

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