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Jon Gustafson: 'I'm resolved to do more, say more and to stand up for equal rights'

GUSTAFSONLate last year, I attended an international leadership conference for LGBT elected and appointed officials, and it was an inspiring and sobering experience.

At the meeting organized by the Victory Institute, I had the opportunity to reflect on the many roles and responsibilities that elected representatives have, and to evaluate the qualities of my own leadership. I joined well-known officials like Seattle mayor Ed Murray and Houston Mayor Annise Parker, but I also joined countless other leaders from cities big and small across the country.

One of the first things I learned about these people was that they had been elected not because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, but because they demonstrated real leadership.

While study sessions at the conference ranged from universal issues like America’s water crisis and immigration to criminal justice reform, the most poignant sessions for me involved issues of inequality and discrimination.

I was elected to represent the people of Lake Oswego on the City Council, and for the past three years I have worked diligently to do just that. But what I learned at the conference in November is that I could be — and should be — doing more. Everyone should stand up against inequality, but I believe those of us in leadership roles should be standing the tallest.

Last year’s Supreme Court ruling gave me the right to marry the person I love. But the victory is bittersweet, considering the fact that in 33 states I could be fired from my job or evicted from my home for exercising that right. And in many parts of the country, I could still be prohibited from adopting or fostering a child. Even here in Oregon, a state that broadly seeks to prohibit it, discrimination exists.

Lake Oswego is an accepting place with friendly, educated people. But even here, there is work to be done. Some still view LGBT rights as “special rights” and don’t believe we deserve equal protection under the law. Some still believe we have a choice in our orientation or identity and don’t approve of that perceived choice.

I believe we owe it to the youth of Lake Oswego who might be struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity to create as safe and as accepting an atmosphere as humanly possible. The stresses of adolescence can be immense; the federal Centers for Disease Control reports that suicide is the second-leading cause of death among young people, and LGBT youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers. Further, LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, can increase the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times.

Despite the progress we’ve made toward equality, both here in Oregon and nationwide, there is still much to do and much to accomplish. For 2016, as a leader, I am resolved to do more, to say more, and to stand up for equal rights. And not just for LGBT rights, but for women’s rights, for racial and ethnic rights, and for the equal rights of everyone.

Jon Gustafson is a Lake Oswego resident and a member of the City Council.