On Feb. 15, 2012, the NoH8 Campaign and freelance journalist Laurence Watts decided to start No H8 on the Hill as part of an effort to make elected officials part of the movement to stop hatred towards and oppression of members of the LGBT community.
Originally begun to protest the passing of Proposition 8 in California, the silent photographic protest movement has spread from everyday Californians to military personnel, members of law enforcement, artists and celebrities, as well as couples and newlyweds from around the world.
Watts and NOH8 founders Jeff Parshely and Adam Bouska wanted to make congressmen and women part of the growing tapestry of supporters.
While the campaign has had over 20,000 participants from all walks of life, this was our first big push to encourage the involvement of government officials, Bouska and Parshely said in a statement. A handful of political figures had posed before, but 'NOH8 on the Hill' was the first time we were working with elected officials on a federal level.
They went to Capitol Hill expecting to get three or four representatives to participate. They now have ten and counting.
Representatives From Across U.S.
With anti-equality politicians currently talking out loud about constitutional marriage amendments, reinstating DADT, and the like, I cannot overemphasize how important and refreshing it is to see 10 of our elected officials stand up and visibly demonstrate their support for equality, Watts said in a piece for the Huffington Post.
The statements they've issued for us to publish with their photos are powerful. I'm not ashamed to say they bring a lump to my throat.
Nor are the ten Congress members who took part in the NOH8 on the Hill photo shoot easy to fit into one category or demographic.
These men and women represent California, Oregon, Colorado, Ohio, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. Four are men, six women. Only one, Rep. Jared Polis (D.-Colo.), identifies as a member of the LGBT community.
In fact, the only group that refused to participate were elected Republicans, from every state and representing every demographic.
Parshely, Bouska and Watts reached out to over 160 Republicans and Democrats on the Hill. Most of the time, the trip didn't hear back anything at all.
It can be really tough for politicians to vocally and publicly support what a lot of people still consider such a controversial issue, Parshely and Bouska said in a joint response. It's an election year too, and there's a lot of momentum for change in this country right now.
That said, if you listen to any of the hearings from the same-sex marriage debates in states like Washington and New Jersey, so many congressmen and congresswomen stood up for all of their constituents' equal rights on both sides of the issue--some of them despite the fact they personally may have been against the idea of same-sex marriage themselves, they added.
'Ultimately, it comes down to courage.'
The most common excuse for not participating, however, was the very real issue of scheduling. Rep. Barney Frank, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, and Sen. John Kerry all originally agreed to participate but had to cancel, while First Lady Michelle Obama never gave an official reply.
Despite hoping for a greater and more bipartisan turnout, Parshely and Bouska are proud of what they were able to accomplish in Washington D.C., and are continuing NOH8 on the Hill by urging supporters to contact their elected representatives.
Seeing their local congressman or woman in a NOH8 photo shows their constituents that they support equal rights for the LGBT community, and show how things are changing, in the capitol and across the U.S., for the gay rights movement.
With so many states debating marriage equality legislation now and in the past several weeks, it's a pivotal time for a national dialogue on equal rights, the NOH8 founders said. We wanted to take advantage of that opportunity.
Just as importantly, however, Bouska and Parshely hope that enlisting the support of Congress members will encourage other elected officials to do the same.
There are so many conflicts and reasons that someone might use as an excuse not to support or not to pose, but ultimately it comes down to courage, they said.
Courage to change. Courage to admit when you're wrong. Courage to come out in support of something that maybe you didn't agree with before.
Below, check out the first ten Congress members to pose for the NOH8 on the Hill campaign, and read their statements of encouragement and support for the LGBT community.
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, District of Columbia: “Don’t be fooled, I’ll never be silenced about marriage equality.” Adam Bouska/NOH8
Rep. Judy Chu, California, District 32: "I’m proud to join over 20,000 participants who’ve posed in NOH8 photos depicting the silencing of equality by California’s Prop 8 and similar legislation around the world. These pictures speak volumes about the will of the American people to be treated the same, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation." Adam Bouska/NOH8
Rep. William Keating, Massachusetts, District 10: "The reason why I support the NOH8 Campaign is simple: our country rests on the principle that all people are equal, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation. If we deny that fact then we are no longer the Land of the Free. The most important freedom is the freedom to be the person you truly are and embrace the life you want to live. It’s my hope that LGBT youth across the country and in Massachusetts feel our encouragement and support. They are not alone. I stand firmly behind them, and the important message that NOH8 is spreading." Adam Bouska/NOH8
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Oregon, District 3: "On the same week that Maryland and Washington stepped up for marriage equality, I stood with NOH8 in solidarity with those who are fighting Prop 8 in California. Gay and lesbian Americans are part of the fabric that makes this country strong. The notion that we could ask these men and women to do everything from paying taxes to serving our country in uniform while denying them the right to marry is offensive to everything I believe in as a public servant. I won’t stop working for equal rights in Congress until they have been extended to every American." Adam Bouska/NOH8
Rep. Niki Tsongas, Massachusetts, District 5: “In 2004 I rallied on the steps of the Massachusetts State House in support of same-sex marriage and I was proud that Massachusetts was the first state to recognize marriage equality. Consenting individuals throughout the country though should have the ability to have their monogamous, long-term relationships recognized and celebrated. Our nation will be stronger when all Americans enjoy this right.” Adam Bouska/NOH8
Rep. Barbara Lee, California, District 8: "Hate does not belong in our communities, families, schools, the workplace and certainly not in our government.” Adam Bouska/NOH8
Rep. Jared Polis, Colorado, District 2: "Equality before the law is an American value articulated in our Constitution and it’s at the heart of the NOH8 Campaign. With a focus on our nation’s value of freedom and an unflagging insistence on equality for all, we can look forward to a time when equal rights for all is a given.” Adam Bouska/NOH8