Lesbian Notions - The Lesbian in the Gray Flannel Suitry

Stacey Sobel and I met more than 20 years ago. I was a student leader at what was then known as the State University of New York at Albany (now it?s called the University at Albany, to make it sound more like a private school). She was a budding lesbian wanting to know how to be an activist.
Given what she?s accomplished for the LGBT community, I guess I gave her some good advice.
As the executive director of Equality Advocates Pennsylvania (EAP), Sobel heads a statewide organization that is one of a kind in the United States. Not only does Equality Advocates educate the public and advocate on LGBT public policy issues, it also provides direct legal services to members of the community - the only statewide LGBT organization to do so.
?We?re the home to the first law student clinic in the country dedicated to LGBT issues,? Sobel told me in a recent phone interview. ?The clinic started in 2000, the year before I got here, but we?ve really grown.? In addition to working with its first partner, the University of Pennsylvania Law School, the clinic now has formal relationships with all the Philadelphia area law schools, as well as Yale, New York University, and the University of California at Los Angeles.
But it?s the public policy and advocacy part of the job that really makes Sobel?s blood pump.
Originally a lobbyist for the telecommunications industry, Sobel knew her way around the halls of Congress. During the summer of 1994, however, she was hired as a consultant by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) and ended up lobbying for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
?It was interesting. Since I had already lobbied, many of the folks on the Hill knew me in a different capacity,? she said. ?I had to out myself. Some people told me I ?would never work again? if I went to work on gay issues.?
Clearly, that?s not the case. Sobel is one of the few - she says there are no more than 50 - LGBT attorneys across the country who actually do LGBT civil rights work as a full-time job.
?I call myself a stealth rebel because I got a lot of my training as a more mainstream lobbyist,? she said. ?I walk around in a dark gray suit, [with an> attache case and a Blackberry. When I stand in the Capitol, I look and talk like the rest of them, and it gives me the ability to have our case heard.?
Sobel explained that the more radical groups in the community make her job easier because they scare the legislators. ?When the elected officials see me coming, I get a better reception,? she said. ?It?s great that the community can be represented in so many different ways.?
In the past few years, Sobel has been walking and talking her way to some pretty nice victories. She told me that when she first took her current job in April of 2001, the prevailing thought was that hate crimes legislation would be passed in Pennsylvania when hell froze over. After working the halls of the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Sobel saw former Governor Mark Schweiker (R) sign the bill into law in 2002.
In July of 2006, Sobel and EAP successfully convinced the Pennsylvania General Assembly to kill the bill that would have put a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage on the ballot. Then later that year, Sobel worked with a large coalition of groups and individuals to do all of us a really big favor - to throw homophobe extraordinaire, the Keystone State?s U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R), out of office.
?The greatest gift Santorum gave us was helping people realize how bad he was for Pennsylvania and the nation,? she said. ?I was thrilled that large segments of our community and allies were energized to go out, campaign, and get involved as never before.?
Another victory was the introduction of nondiscrimination bills in each house of the Pennsylvania legislature. Sobel thinks there is a good chance of the bill passing in the state House of Representatives before the end of the 2007-08 session.
Sobel also thinks that same-sex marriage will absolutely be a reality in her lifetime. And that?s good, since she and her partner of 13 years, Michelle Sperry, just had a daughter.
?It?s been fantastic,? she said. ?For myself and my partner and our family and friends, it?s been an absolutely wonderful experience, but it?s also brought home in a different way why I do the work I do.?
Sobel explained that in 2002, EAP successfully argued before the state Supreme Court for second-parent adoption. She is thrilled to be going through the process now to adopt her daughter, but it makes her angry that she has to go through criminal and abuse checks.
?I shouldn?t have to adopt my own child.?
And her work never ends.
Libby Post is the founding chair of the Empire State Pride Agenda and a political commentator on public radio, on the Web, and in print media. She can be reached LesbianNotions@qsyndicate.com.

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