As a parent, I teach my daughter that we should all treat each other the way we would want to be treated. As a small business owner in the municipality of Anchorage, I know that fairness and equality create strong communities and a thriving economy. As a retired military veteran, I believe our freedom is sacred and worth defending.
Kindness. Equality. Fairness. Freedom. These are values that we all share as Americans. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan can help us live up to our greatest ideals by joining their colleagues in Congress on both sides of the aisle in support of the federal Equality Act. This commonsense legislation would ensure that all LGBTQ Americans can live, work, and access public spaces free from discrimination, no matter what state we call home.
Unfortunately, discrimination is still commonplace for LGBTQ Americans. In my case, the unequal treatment started early in life. I joined the military fresh out of high school and served under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – in an era when being outed as a lesbian would have meant the end of my career and permanent exclusion from the veterans benefits that all soldiers earn. For me and many others, living openly as LGBTQ simply wasn’t an option. There was a lot to lose.
During this time, closeted servicemembers carefully sought each other out, creating spaces where we could be our full selves while we served our country. I married a gay man in the service so that we both could have a modicum of freedom and protection – and many of my friends did the same.
Some of my former colleagues have stayed in these marriages even after the repeal of this discriminatory policy. Though we have made great strides as a country, there is still a pervasive sense in the community that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell could be reinstated. This was especially true during the Trump administration.
Like many veterans, my time in the military ended when I was discharged due to injury. Though I was leaving the compulsory closet behind, the threat of workplace discrimination followed me into the next chapter of my career. I found work at an accounting firm where I quickly realized it wasn’t possible to talk openly about my wife. Keeping clients and colleagues happy meant ‘playing the pronoun game’ when I referenced my spouse, allowing them to believe I was in a straight relationship.
As my career progressed, doors opened for me because of my education and experience – doors that I know have been slammed in the face of many LGBTQ people with less privilege than me. And still, discrimination repeatedly cost me professional opportunities and financial security.
Once I established myself as a successful accountant, employers began to seek me out – and I began to notice I was offered every job for which I interviewed, except the ones where I asked about same-sex partner benefits. These benefits weren’t guaranteed by law at the time. On the rare occasions when we did receive them, my wife and I had to pay more than my colleagues in heterosexual marriages.
Although the Supreme Court ruled last year in the landmark case Bostock v Clayton County that employment discrimination against LGBTQ people is prohibited, there are millions of LGBTQ people across this country who are still subjected to discrimination in their daily lives. Critical gaps remain in federal nondiscrimination law, and the LGBTQ community remains unprotected in housing, credit, lending, public spaces, and in health care settings.
America is ready for LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections nationwide. The Equality Act has broad and deep support across lines of political party, demographics, and geography. Even so, opponents of LGBTQ equality continue to file discriminatory bills in states across the country in an attempt to undermine protections we already have – protections that allowed me to marry my wife, adopt my daughter, and build a good life with my family in Eagle River.
It’s time for Senators Murkowski and Sullivan to listen to their constituents and engage in good faith efforts to get the Equality Act over the finish line. This is a priority. All Americans, including LGBTQ people, should be able to go about their daily lives without fear of harassment or discrimination.
Amy Hillenbrand (she/her) served in the Army during Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Now she is a CPA and a Certified Fraud Examiner. She serves on the board of Identity, Inc., a statewide nonprofit advancing the LGBTQ+ community of Alaska.