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One Iowa Education Fund is dedicated to supporting full equality for LGBT individuals in Iowa through grassroots efforts and education.

In our nondiscrimination law, the thing that happened was relationship-building with business leaders and non-traditional allies advocating on our behalf and that really helps change the policy.”

- Brad Clark

State Nondiscrimination Policy

Sharon Malheiro looks back on her work as an Iowa lawyer in 1992 and recalls her fear about openly discussing her sexual orientation - such talk alone could get her fired in most of the state at that time. Providing statewide civil rights protections to all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression is a key requirement for achieving an end state of equality. And the changes Sharon and others have helped shape in Iowa and other states are dramatic, including the expansion of workplace protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender workers.

Collaborative efforts among state-based groups and larger national organizations are quickly becoming a model for success. By supporting state groups, collaborative organizations such as the State Equality Fund and Equality Federation are helping produce results throughout the country. These groups work along with some of the Gill Foundation’s national grantees such as The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, Lambda Legal, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Together, they see that policy work in Washington DC and the federal courts is strengthened by effective state coalitions.

Strengthening ties with supporters and offering education are essential to achieving equal rights at the state level. As Brad Clark of One Iowa notes, “the thing that helped [in passing our nondiscrimination law] was relationship building with business leaders and non-traditional allies who began advocating on our behalf.“

The progress achieved in Iowa is reflected in states across the country. Colorado, Oregon, and Vermont added or expanded nondiscrimination legislation after statewide coalitions focusing on public education were able to build climates supportive of equal rights in 2007.

Randall Miller, a program officer at the Evelyn & Walter Haas Jr. Fund, works with the State Equality Fund, a consortium of three different funders - including the Gill Foundation - that supports work for equality in states judged to have a strong potential to create change.

Some of those states might be surprising. In North Carolina, for example, the consortium is funding an effort to increase protections for LGBT state workers. In Tennessee, the State Equality Fund is building public support for adding gender identity protections to a hate crimes statute.

“States are a very promising arena for advocacy work,” Randall says.

Toni Broaddus, executive director of the Equality Federation, agrees. “If you stand firm and make the argument for fairness, you can actually pass fully inclusive statewide nondiscrimination laws,” notes the leader of a national alliance of state-based LGBT advocacy organizations.

The steps to success are becoming clearer, as we work together and with allies to make all workplaces free from discrimination.