Monisha Harrell never set out to be an activist. She registered to vote on her eighteenth birthday, fulfilling her own personal obligation for civic duty. But as Washington State’s fight for marriage equality drew to a close in 2012 with the success of Referendum 74, Monisha saw a unique need in the community – a need to maintain the fight for LGBTQ rights after a long and hard-fought battle for marriage was won.
“My interest wasn’t actually in the marriage campaign, it was what comes after marriage,” said Monisha, GSBA’s 2018 Community Leader of the Year. “There’s always something that we can do to improve the world we live in. That’s how I really got involved. It wasn’t a set mission, I just knew that there were places where I could support and I could help.”
Since 2012, Monisha has served on the Board of Directors at Equal Rights Washington (ERW) and now serves as the organization’s Board Chair, spearheading advocacy work on issues like trans healthcare, anti-bullying programs in schools, and various campaigns tearing down anti-LGBTQ practices and replacing them with inclusive policies.
“Post-marriage equality, a lot of people thought that Equal Rights Washington didn’t have any work left to do. But the reality of it is that marriage is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Monisha. “Marriage was the thing that got us to the table to be able to talk about the other issues that are really important. There’s a lot of work left to do… Every year, the board gets together and we talk about our priorities for that upcoming year. The list is always longer than the (amount of) resources we have to do them with, so we have to prioritize, and we know the most important thing for our community is to get ‘wins.’ We make sure that every single year we are advancing the rights of LGBTQ people across Washington State."
During Washington State’s 2018 legislative session, Monisha’s work with ERW helped ban conversion therapy for minors and pass the Uniform Parentage Act. Both pieces of legislation were also supported by GSBA.
Yet while Washington’s progressive momentum continues, the peeling-back of human rights protections by the current administration has made Monisha’s work even more critical.
“The current federal administration has been a tremendous speed bump for LGBTQ rights across the country. But what we know for Washington State is that there are a number of LGBTQ people who moved here specifically for the rights that we have,” said Monisha. “So what we don’t want, is we don’t want the community to feel like they don’t have a home. Washington is our home. We will protect it with everything we have. So what that means is that first we play good defense, and second, we play really good offense.”
In 2019, Equal Rights Washington’s offense is its work to ban legal gay and trans-panic defenses across Washington, a campaign also supported by GSBA.
“That should not be an affirmative defense for harming somebody and causing violence to our community,” said Monisha. “There’s so much work to do, and we’re not going to let this current administration stop us from doing it.”
Join us in honoring Monisha during Justice For All: 38th Annual Business & Humanitarian Awards Dinner on Thursday, Feb 21 at the Seattle Waterfront Marriott: http://bit.ly/2Rzxo3i