The Long Fight

Outgoing president Katie Belanger recaps the challenges and successes of her time at Fair Wisconsin on the eve of the organization’s transition to new priorities.

Court after court struck down discriminatory bans on marriage equality in the past year, including right here in Wisconsin. With the freedom to marry accomplished, we at Fair Wisconsin are incredibly excited about the next phase of our work to advance equality for the entire LGBTQ community.

As we prepared for a “post-marriage” world, the board, staff, and membership of Fair Wisconsin explored opportunities to deepen our work to realize our vision of a fair, safe, and inclusive Wisconsin. We assessed the myriad challenges LGBTQ people still face in Wisconsin that marriage does not solve. We looked at how other state-based LGBTQ advocacy organizations had moved forward after they achieved the freedom to marry, to learn from the experiences of our sister organizations.

Homophobia and transphobia are still real and still impact LGBTQ people and their families every day. Trans* people can still be denied employment and housing, fired or evicted, and denied access to public places simply because of who they are. Until all LGBTQ people are able to live safely and free from discrimination, our work continues.

To that end, Fair Wisconsin is committed to ensuring that legal equality becomes a lived reality for LGBTQ people. Our top three priorities in 2015 and beyond include:

• Ensuring equal access to the protections of marriage for same-sex couples
• Ensuring equal treatment for our trans* brothers and sisters
• Ensuring a robust movement remains to advance LGBTQ equality

Marriage Implementation

Since the Supreme Court of the United States’ decision to not take up the Wisconsin and Indiana marriage cases, Governor Scott Walker and Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen have not given any specific direction to state government agencies to do anything more than treat same-sex marriages as the same as opposite-sex marriages. This has led to confusion for state agency officials, county clerks, and couples, as there are still many instances in existing statutes in which same-sex couples are treated differently from their heterosexual counterparts or are not recognized at all.

To ensure that all legally married same-sex couples are truly treated equally, Wisconsin statutes must be comprehensively updated to recognize all the legal issues affecting all married couples, from birth certificates to income taxes to the death of a spouse, and more.

Statewide Trans* Nondiscrimination

In 1982, Wisconsin made history by becoming the first state to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. This historic legislation has been protecting lesbian, gay, and bisexual Wisconsinites from discrimination at their workplaces, in housing, and in public accommodations for more than 30 years. Fair Wisconsin believes it is equally important that these protections be extended to the trans* community, as well.

Current nondiscrimination best practices include protections for trans* and gender-nonconforming individuals with the addition of “gender identity and expression” as a protected class.

By modernizing our nondiscrimination policies, Wisconsin will have a new tool to protect our citizens from incidents of discrimination. Current laws protecting public safety and nondiscrimination will stay in place; the updates we seek will ensure that all people, including trans* individuals, will be protected from discrimination.

We’ve had tremendous success in advancing updates to local nondiscrimination ordinances to ensure that trans* people are protected from discrimination. But modernizing state laws is our ultimate goal.

It’s time for Wisconsin law to change so that every worker, including those who are gay or transgender, is judged on performance and qualifications—nothing more, nothing less. It’s about striking a balance. We can give everyone an equal opportunity to earn a living and hold everyone to the same professional standards.

Movement Building

A strong grassroots infrastructure is the foundation upon which our work is built. That’s why in 2012 we launched the Wisconsin LGBT Leadership Conference, titled “Connecting Leaders, Advancing the Movement,” which seeks to build a skilled and connected network of LGBTQ and allied leaders advancing equality in their communities. We host this conference in partnership with Diverse and Resilient, our statewide LGBTQ public health organization.

The Wisconsin LGBT Leadership Conference is an exciting and innovative program that provides LGBTQ people and allies with the skills to be leaders in their own communities, through workshops and networking opportunities, and by highlighting the strengths that emerge within various intersections in the LGBTQ community.

Each year, we have been proud to draw from national movement leaders to inspire and engage our participants. In 2015, we will be joined by Evan Wolfson, founder of the national Freedom to Marry campaign, and Kris Hermanns, Executive Director of the Pride Foundation, an LGBTQ community foundation in the Pacific Northwest, as well as other local, state, and national speakers. To find out more or to register, visit wilgbtleadership.org.

It’s a time of transition here at Fair Wisconsin. In 2015, we are going to see new campaigns launch to address the priorities I’ve outlined, and we will have new leadership to move Fair Wisconsin forward.

As I wind down my six-year tenure with Fair Wisconsin, I’m incredibly proud of the work we’ve done together. We’ve achieved significant and groundbreaking victories. From the passage of the domestic partnership registry in 2009 to myriad local victories that demonstrated Wisconsin is ready for full equality to winning the freedom to marry for same-sex couples, the Badger State is once again a leader in the quest for fairness.


Katie Belanger has been the President and CEO of Fair Wisconsin since 2009 and was their legislative director before then. She’s also served as the Board Co-Chair for the Equality Federation.