HRC spotlight: Making it legal - Will you marry me?

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Snow cocooned the lake beside them as Steve Newsome bent onto one knee and held up the ring.

“Will you marry me?” he asked with the towering peaks of New York City standing witness outside their lakeside spot in Central Park.

His long-time boyfriend Evan Wong wasn’t expecting the proposal. Only minutes before he had been grousing that he was cold and his feet were wet. All that evaporated. “Yes!” Wong answered, as a friend snapped pictures of the moment.

For Wong and Newsome, the proposal was historic. Not just for them personally but because they had only gained the right to marry from the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling. With the bulk of the plaintiffs in the legal case coming from the Cincinnati area, it was a ruling that Newsome felt a strong connection to during the long fight alongside the nation’s largest gay rights advocacy group, the Human Rights Campaign.

 “This is what we spent the past eight years working for. It was almost surreal when it happened.”

“These issues are incredibly personal. I was with (Evan) at the time and we got to celebrate the big win together,” Newsome said. “This is what we spent the past eight years working for. It was almost surreal when it happened.”

U.S. Bank is highlighting the work of Newsome and the hundreds of other volunteers for HRC during Pride Month and beyond by becoming a national corporate partner with the nonprofit, the nation’s largest civil rights organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer equality. The bank is also participating in 33 Pride events across the nation – the most ever – to show support for the LGBTQ community.

“No one is free if one person is shackled by constraints on their freedom grounded in race, gender or sexual orientation. We believe all people should be free to live their lives and express their individuality as they wish,” said Ann Dyste, LGBT segment lead for U.S. Bank.

Issues such as marriage equality, military service without consideration of sexual orientation, or unrestricted transgender bathroom access are “incredibly personal,” Newsome said, who joined the HRC in 2008 and is now a member of HRC’s National Board of Governors from Greater Cincinnati. “We all know someone who has experienced some form of discrimination or has been touched by someone who might be a little different than them,” Newsome said. “Our mission is to change hearts and minds by telling those personal stories.”

He recounted the experience of a friend who was booted from the military when his superiors found out that he was gay—a prohibition from military service under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

“All he wanted to do was serve. But we had this policy in place that said he couldn’t.”

“He lost a scholarship and it was incredibly embarrassing,” Newsome recalled. “All he wanted to do was serve. But we had this policy in place that said he couldn’t.”

Thanks to the work of HRC volunteers and staff, the fight continues against laws and policies such as don’t ask, don’t tell, which was overturned in 2011.

But Newsome notes that there are many regulations that the HRC is still fighting—and new ones being created. And he credits companies such as U.S. Bank with helping to make the workplace a more welcoming place for the LGBTQ community. Last year, the bank earned its 10th consecutive year on the HRC’s Corporate Equality Index for its openness to LGBTQ employees. “A lot of people take that score very seriously,” Newsome said. The thing that makes us unique is that when we come together, we can accomplish so much.”