What Pride Illuminates About Human Rights and Our Planet

Four NRDC staffers consider the legal protections that changed their lives and how all rights, including those related to the environment, are intimately connected.

Credit: Kay Sohini

In celebration of Pride Month, four NRDCers are sharing stories of how the fight for justice and legal protection for the LGBTQIA2S+ community has radically shaped their personal lives, and, in some ways, their environmental work.

As NRDC communications staffer Tyler Weingart suggests: There is a lesson in knowing that many human rights—from reproductive freedom to marriage equality to environmental protections—were fought for and not just given. And it underscores why we must not only continue to protect the progress we’ve made but demand better.

Kristen Walsh

Photo director, Communications

Credit: Courtesy of Kristen Walsh

When I got married in 2009, I had to plan two weddings, a wedding in New York for my friends and family and the ceremony in Connecticut, where gay marriage was legal at the time. As the officiant said the words, “by the power vested in me by the state of Connecticut,” I cried (an ugly cry that does not look cute in wedding photos). Those words were powerful.

In 2012, our child was born. At the time, New York allowed me, “the second parent,” to be listed on the birth certificate. (The same courtesy was not given to two fathers.) More than 25 states did not recognize this document. That’s why, to ensure my rights, we had started the process of second-parent adoption prior to the birth. This included a lawyer, lots of paperwork, two home visits by a social worker, a court date, and almost a year of our lives. Then, at the adoption ceremony, my wife had to temporarily give up custody of our daughter as we signed another document saying that we now had joint custody of our own child.

So in 2015, when the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was repealed, I cried (an ugly cry) again. I cried for the humiliation that I had endured having to prove that I was the parent of my own child. I cried out of joy, knowing that the next generation wouldn’t have to go through the same. I cried because my marriage was finally recognized at all levels of government. And I cried because the timing coincided with my marriage ending (just like straight people, it doesn’t always work out). I no longer had to worry about losing custody of my child in the divorce, like so many queer parents before me.

I’m grateful for the gay rights movement that fought both in court and on the streets for gay marriage. But, as we’re seeing with the leaked draft concerning Roe v. Wade, court decisions can be overturned. We need laws that protect our human rights. We need laws that protect our trans youth. We need laws to protect all families and my daughter’s right to say “my moms are gay” in her classroom.

Junito Rodríguez

Recruiter, Human Resources

Junito and his husband
Credit: Courtesy of Junito Rodriguez

As a Puerto Rican cisgender male who is married to an African American cisgender male, I have a personal understanding of the way issues can be interconnected. And in the wake of what is happening with Roe v. Wade, of course, I wonder if my right to marriage equality will stand.

I realize that the fight for any human right—whether it is related to environmental justice, racial equality, or LGBTQ+ rights—can be a real and long struggle. For example, in the 1990s, many of my mentors not only lost their partners to the HIV/AIDS crisis but they also lost their houses, personal belongings, and the ability to make decisions on their partner’s behalf because they had no rights under the law. And today, parts of the LGBTQ+ community are among those who suffer disproportionately from climate threats.

But we must keep running the marathon to see these long-term issues permanently addressed. We need America to be a world leader that defends equal rights—regardless of gender, sexuality, or ethnicity—and that protects the earth in ways that make it safe for all of us.

Tyler Weingart

Production manager, Communications

Tyler and his husband on their wedding day
Credit: Courtesy of Tyler Weingart

Like millions of people across this country—and around the world—I was gutted when I first read about the Supreme Court’s leaked draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade. I thought, Is this really happening? The same week the news broke, I was out at dinner with some friends and this was, of course, a topic of conversation. But it wasn’t until one of them said, “marriage equality could be next,” that the potential ramifications started to settle in.

I have been with my partner for more than a decade, and for the first half of our relationship, national marriage equality wasn’t even in existence. And now that we’ve been married almost three years, the thought that the protections we hold dear could be taken away is hard to stomach.

The news about Roe v. Wade probably has a lot of us thinking about what this could mean for a number of other landmark decisions and protections too. That’s because we understand that nobody handed women the right to control their own health and medical decisions, or LGBTQI+ the right to marry the person they love, or any of us the right to clean water or clean air. Those are interconnected rights we fought for. So the threat to one is a threat to all of them.

What’s transpiring in this country has many of us trying to figure out the road ahead. It has me thinking about what I can do to help. By being at NRDC, I am proud to say I am working on at least one brick in that road.

Katie Umekubo

Senior director, Lands Division

Katie, her wife, and their two children
Credit: Courtesy of Katie Umekubo

Despite meeting in college and spending more than a decade and a half together, my wife and I delayed getting married until 2015—when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality. That year felt right, like my life and our country were settling in on a path toward a better, more hopeful, and more just world for all.

Unthinkable in 2015, we are now faced with a Supreme Court on the cusp of overturning Roe v. Wade. This assault on reproductive rights is nothing short of devastating. I’m also terrified of the other protections that could soon follow, particularly for the LGBTQ+ community, and of our devalued democracy and highest court. This rings true for environmental issues as well, where gains that were once clearly within grasp seem like they may be slipping further away.

Of course, we must keep fighting, and resilience and community can propel us forward. I tell myself to trust that there are too many layers that have been fought for that cannot and will not be undone. My first child was born in 2016, and even in San Francisco, there was only one box for mother on his birth certificate, and my wife checked that one. With the birth of our second child in 2019, I was able to check “mother” and so was my wife. That’s something.

And this spring, when I took my first work trip in more than two years, it was to an outdoor summit bringing together LGBTQ+ individuals in the environmental and outdoor recreation community. A decade ago, this space did not exist. And this year’s gathering purposefully illuminated our innate need to connect and the resulting power and energy of connection, with each other and with nature. This is why, in spite of what is happening, I trust we will persist. Because a connected community that can reach across movements may be deterred, but only grows stronger. That is something too.

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