Up to the Challenge

Meet Katie Belanger. As Fair Wisconsin’s new Executive Director, she’s using her experience and resolve to fight the good fight.

Where are you from and what is your background?
I’m Wisconsin-born and raised; grew up in Wauwatosa and went to UW–Madison. I’ve been here ever since.

How did you become an advocate for marriage equality?
My first exposure to politics was as an intern with Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin. Watching her fight for health care, veterans’ rights and LGBT equality was the definitive moment of my career. I had the pleasure of working as her Finance Director. I have also worked for Governor Doyle, for Libby Burmaster and for a few other political leaders – all of whom support LGBT equality.

When Glenn Carlson, then Fair Wisconsin Executive Director, asked me to be the organization’s first Legislative Director, to spearhead the effort to enact domestic partnership protections, I didn’t hesitate. When he decided he wanted more time with his partner, Michael, the board looked for someone who could fill his shoes at Fair Wisconsin. He did an amazing job; he knew Wisconsin politics and government, was passionate about LGBT equality and had a proven record winning on progressive issues and advancing an agenda. That’s the bar that’s been set—and I’m honored they chose me to lead this organization into the future. As a straight woman who is married, I am proud to say that Fair Wisconsin does not discriminate. I am ready, willing and able to take on this next challenge.

What would people be surprised to know about the passage of the new Domestic Partnership protections?
I think people would be surprised by the broad coalition that came together to support this. Domestic partnerships were endorsed by many legislators, labor unions and progressive allies throughout the state. Thanks to the hard work of Fair Wisconsin and its allies, Wisconsin is the first state with an existing constitutional amendment banning both marriage equality and civil unions to later enact domestic partnerships. We are the first state in the Midwest to advance relationship-recognition through legislation. This is something Wisconsin can be very proud of—we are moving forward again.

As the new Executive Director, what is on your agenda for your first 100 days… and after that?
First, we need to be ready to defend domestic partnerships from the legal challenges that our opponents have already brought forward. We need to re-fill our coffers after the expense of supporting the enactment of domestic partnerships to ensure that we have the resources to defend these crucial protections in court. At the same time, we need to educate people on the domestic partnership protections so that LGBT couples know what these are and how to use them. We need to help county clerks know how to register committed LGBT couples, too.

This legislative victory, while a major advancement, is just one step. We won because of our strategic planning and how carefully we worked with our allies in the community, in the Legislature and our progressive allies across the state. We need to engage these same groups and other LGBT equality supporters across the state in developing an agenda that keeps Wisconsin moving forward. There is no other organization better positioned than Fair Wisconsin to lead this fight – and my job is to ensure we have the resources, relationships and resolve to get the job done.

*Editor’s Note: Katie still serves as Executive Director (and as President & CEO) at Fair Wisconsin. Katie currently serves as the Board Co-Chair for the Equality Federation, the national alliance of state-based LGBT advocacy organizations, representing over 50 organizations in 41 states. She served as Equality Federation Board Secretary from 2010-2012.