Her second dream came true in 2008, when she legally married Kelly during a short window when same-sex marriage was legal in California, after the state’s Supreme Court struck down a lower court’s decision that defined marriage as being between a man and a woman.
“I never thought I would see the day when we could get legally married, and it was truly the best day of my life,” Lehtonen said. “It was the most powerful experience, and we were just elated to be fully recognized – our love, our life and our family.” They were married in late October 2008. Two weeks later, California voters approved Proposition 8, which eliminated the right for same-sex couples to marry. So just like that, the validity of their marriage was threatened.
It was around that time when Lehtonen, the founder and president of marketing and brand consulting firm Asterix, was approached to join the San Francisco steering committee for the Human Rights Campaign. She’d been a donor for about 20 years, but her brand/marketing work seemed like a perfect fit for HRC, the nation’s largest civil rights organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer equality. HRC’s steering committees drive local HRC chapters’ activities, such as fundraising galas and other LGBTQ events.
“At the time, I was doing a lot of consulting with traditional companies on their segment marketing plans to LGBT communities,” Lehtonen said. Because of those connections, she was asked if she could help HRC get more corporate sponsorships in the Bay Area.
For Lehtonen, the LGBTQ advocacy and lobbying work of HRC had become “extremely personal. Our marriage was on the line for nearly five years,” she said, as Prop 8, as it became known, weaved its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
On June 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the private proponents of Prop 8 didn’t have a legal standing to appeal after a federal judge in San Francisco had struck down the statute as unconstitutional. The ruling allowed same-sex couples to legally marry again in California. “HRC and our president, Chad Griffin, were instrumental in bringing the case all the way to the Supreme Court,” Lehtonen said.
Lehtonen continues her steering committee and sponsorship work today, and has been on the organization’s national Board of Governors for the past six years. “What happened to me, as it happens with HRC volunteers, is each year I get more passionate and more involved. I feel it’s more like a calling now,” she said.
U.S. Bank is highlighting the work of Lehtonen and other HRC volunteers during June Pride month. The bank recently became a national corporate partner of HRC, and is participating in 33 Pride events across the country – the most ever – to show support for the LGBTQ community. Corporate financial support, such as U.S. Bank’s national sponsorship, is critical to HRC’s continuing work for LGBTQ equality, Lehtonen said. “We couldn’t expand and do the things we do without our corporate sponsors,” she said. “Beyond dollars, it says to the community at large that these companies stand for equality. And that sends a powerful message.”