In celebration of Pride Month, four NRDC members share how the struggle for justice and legal protection for the LGBTQIA2S+ community has dramatically shaped their personal lives and, in some ways, their environmental work.

As NRDC communications staff Tyler Weingart suggests: There is a lesson to be learned from knowing that many human rights – from reproductive freedom to marriage equality to the protection of environment – have been defended and not just granted. And it underscores why we must not only continue to protect the progress we have made, but demand better.

Kristen Walsh

Director of photography, Communications

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 same-sex marriage was legal at the time. As the officiant spoke the words, “by the power vested in me by the State of Connecticut,” I cried (an ugly cry that doesn’t look cute in wedding photos). These words were powerful.

In 2012, our child was born. At the time, New York allowed me, “the second parent”, to appear on the birth certificate. (The same courtesy was not extended to two fathers.) More than 25 states have not recognized this document. This is why, to guarantee my rights, we had started the process of adoption by a second parent before the birth. This included a lawyer, a lot paperwork, two home visits by a social worker, a court date and almost a year of our lives. Then, during the adoption ceremony, my wife had to temporarily give up custody of our daughter because 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So in 2015 when the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was repealed, I cried again (a horrible cry). I wept for the humiliation I had endured of having to prove that I was the parent of my own child. I cried with joy, knowing that the next generation wouldn’t have to go through the same thing. I cried because my marriage was finally recognized by all levels of government. And I cried because the timing coincided with the end of my marriage (just like straight guys, it doesn’t always work out). I no longer had to worry about losing custody of my child in divorce, like so many gay parents before me.

I am grateful for the gay rights movement which fought both in the courts and on the streets for gay marriage. But, as we see with the leaked draft regarding Roe vs. 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 mom is gay” in her classroom.

Junito Rodriguez

Recruiter, Human Resources

Junito and her husband

Courtesy of Junito Rodriguez

As a Puerto Rican cisgender man married to an African American cisgender man, I have a personal understanding of how issues can be interconnected. And as a result of what happens with Roe vs. Wadeof course, I wonder if my right to equal marriage will be upheld.

I realize that the fight for any human right, whether related to environmental justice, racial equality or LGBTQ+ rights, can be a real and long fight. For example, in the 1990s, many of my mentors not only lost their partners to the HIV/AIDS crisis, but they also lost their homes, belongings, and the ability to make decisions on behalf of their partner 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 have to keep running the marathon to see these long-term issues permanently resolved. We need America to be a global leader who stands up for equal rights — regardless of gender, sexuality, or ethnicity — and who protects the earth in a way that makes it safe for all of us.

Tyler Weingart

Production Manager, Communications

Tyler and her husband on their wedding day

Courtesy of Tyler Weingart

Like millions of people across the country, and around the world, I was disgusted when I first read the Supreme Court’s leaked opinion that would overturn Roe vs. Wade. I thought, is it really event? The same week the news broke, I was out for dinner with friends and it was, of course, a topic of conversation. But it wasn’t until one said, “marriage equality could be next,” that the potential ramifications began to set in.

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

The news on Roe vs. Wade many of us are probably thinking about what this might mean for a number of other landmark rulings and protections. This is because we understand that no one has given women the right to control their own health and medical decisions, or LGBTQI+ people the right to marry the person they love, or each of us right to drinking water or clean air. These are interconnected rights that we fought for. Thus, the threat to one is a threat to all.

What is happening in this country has many of us trying to figure out the way forward. It makes me think about what I can do to help. Being at NRDC, I am proud to say that I am working on at least one brick of this road.

Katie Umekubo

Senior Director, Lands Division

Katie, his wife and their two children

Courtesy of Katie Umekubo

Although we met in college and spent over a decade and a half together, my wife and I delayed our marriage until 2015 when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the marriage equality. That year I felt good, like my life and our country were settling on the path to a better, more hopeful, and fairer world for everyone.

Unthinkable in 2015, today we are faced with a Supreme Court about to overturn Roe vs. Wade. This attack on reproductive rights is simply devastating. I am also terrified of the other protections that may soon follow, especially for the LGBTQ+ community, and our devalued democracy and highest court. This also applies to environmental issues, where gains that were once clearly within reach seem to be receding further.

Of course, we have to keep fighting, and resilience and community can propel us forward. I tell myself to trust that there are too many layers we 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 her birth certificate, and my wife checked that one. With the birth of our second child in 2019, I was able to verify “mother” and my wife as well. It’s something.

And this spring, when I took my first work trip in over two years, it was to an outdoor summit bringing together LGBTQ+ people from the environmental and outdoor recreation community. Ten years ago, this space did not exist. And this year’s gathering deliberately illuminated our innate need to connect and the resulting power and energy of connection, with each other and with nature. That is why, despite what is happening, I hope that we will persist. Because a connected community that can reach every movement can be discouraged, but only grows stronger. It’s something too.

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