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.