October 25, 2018 at 3:25 pm PST | by Karen Ocamb
Masen Davis explains Freedom For All Americans

Masen Davis, center. (Photo courtesy FFAA)

Exactly one year ago, on Oct. 25, 2017, Freedom for All Americans hired longtime LGBT advocate Masen Davis as the new CEO. Masen proved his mettle as a national leader as Executive Director of the Transgender Law Center, as Co-Director of Global Action for Trans* Equality as a strategic team player in the Los Angeles-based Transgender Working Group that devised a plan and recommendations for the LA Police Department’s treatment on trans individuals—including inmates—that was signed in April 2012 by LAPD Chief Charlie Beck. He was also instrumental in helping pass AB 1266, California’s School Success and Opportunity Act authored by out Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, that prohibits schools from discriminating against transgender students and denying them access to facilities and activities that match their gender identity.

Founded in 2015, Freedom for All Americans is a bipartisan campaign “to secure full nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people nationwide. Our work brings together Republicans and Democrats, businesses large and small, people of faith, and allies from all walks of life to make the case for comprehensive non-discrimination protections that ensure everyone is treated fairly and equally.”
FFAA’s “ultimate goal” is “securing federal statutory protections for LGBTQ Americans, Freedom for All Americans works at the federal, state, and local level to advance measures and laws protecting from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression – without allowing overly broad and harmful religious exemptions that will encourage employers, business owners or others to choose to disregard those protections,” according to their website.

But what does that mean, really, and how will they get there? Masen and many of the FFAA crew are in Los Angeles tonight to explain what the organization is doing and how it’s working with others to achieve equality. Check for more information.

The Los Angeles Blade reached out to Davis to get a greater awareness of what FFAA is doing. Here’s that exchange.

LAB: Much has changed since you were named CEO of FAA last October. What have been your priorities and what have you done to achieve them?

DAVIS: I joined FFAA last year to win strong, comprehensive protections for the most vulnerable members of our LGBTQ community, and to ensure FFAA has the strategy, staff and resources we need to be a clutch player in the movement for nationwide nondiscrimination protections.

There’s no doubt that our work has grown more challenging over the last year – but we’ve also learned some really important lessons about how we can win. Freedom for All Americans is focused on making the case for comprehensive nondiscrimination protections that ensure everyone is treated fairly and equally no matter which state they call home. We bring together people from across the political spectrum, businesses large and small, people of faith, and allies from all walks of life to demonstrate that equality is not a partisan issue and that fairness is something all Americans can support.

Bringing people together across the aisle isn’t easy in this particular moment – but it feels more important than ever.

We have been actively working in states across the country to pass comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people in states like New Hampshire and Florida, and to defend our victories at the ballot in Anchorage and Massachusetts. We’re committed to campaign strategies that center transgender people and the voices of those that will be most impacted by these laws; amplify the support of women’s groups, conservatives, and businesses; and tackle our opponents messaging head-on. All of these tactics have added up to our recent victories in Anchorage and New Hampshire, and illustrate a path forward for how we win even in challenging times.

Of course, we’re facing incredible challenges at the federal level, where the Trump administration has steadily undermined equality for LGBTQ folks – particularly transgender people. This is deeply disturbing, and it’s a personal fight for many of us. But again, we know from the work we’ve done at the state level that what this administration is proposing isn’t reflective of mainstream American values.

Most Americans, including many Republicans, support nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people. In fact, we’ve seen an increase in bipartisan support for LGBTQ issues in response to some of Trump’s anti-LGBTQ announcements and actions; for example, his tweet about transgender military service resulted in unprecedented demonstrations of support from unexpected Republican leaders like Orrin Hatch. It’s becoming increasingly clear that Congress must take urgent action to pass legislation that ensures all LGBTQ people are treated fairly and equally under our laws.

None of us are naive about the challenges still facing our movement. But because of these recent victories, we have something now that we didn’t several years ago: a clearer playbook for success that not only creates concrete changes but also changes the climate for the long term. As we head into a 2019 legislative session likely to be defined by divisive midterm elections, this playbook can help steer us toward building stronger partnerships, strengthening communities, and grounding our work with the power of our stories.

LAB: FAA has some extraordinary folks on board, including “our own” LA-based Jon Davidson. But how are we supposed to SEE what you DO if you primarily provide background support and education to existing organizations and campaigns? As you may know, one of the complaints about GLAAD is that we can’t SEE the behind-the-scenes work they do so how can they be applauded or held accountable?

DAVIS: We certainly strive to amplify the good work of our state and national partners, and do what we can to make the work of all movement organizations as efficient and effective as possible. But during my tenure at Freedom for All, we have already seen an intentional increase in visibility of our work as an organization to ensure that LGBTQ people know who we are and what we do on their behalf. A top priority of mine has been to build the national narrative of growing support for nondiscrimination by amplifying our community’s diverse coalition of allies.

We regularly share the stories of unexpected allies, such as conservatives, people of faith, safety advocates, small business owners, and others who support nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people, to help us demonstrate the real and urgent need for comprehensive federal law. In addition to background support, we are also becoming a more visible partner to state-level work. We were a prominent partner to the Freedom New Hampshire campaign over the last two years and galvanized the national movement to push New Hampshire’s nondiscrimination bill over the finish line.

Our President of Strategy, Kasey Suffredini, serves as campaign co-chair for the Yes on 3 campaign (formerly Freedom Massachusetts) and regularly provides media commentary and campaign strategy support, and participates in public debates on behalf of the campaign.

The team at Freedom for All Americans has developed some of the most cutting-edge tools in our movement, like our litigation tracker, legislative tracker, and a brand new storytelling hub called Faces of Freedom that houses the movement’s top spokespeople. We also bring together top businesses through America Competes, providing the connective tissue between Fortune 500 companies who want to engage in LGBTQ advocacy and the state business coalitions on the front lines. We believe there is an important balance to strike.

Supporting and amplifying the work of our partners will strengthen the entire LGBTQ movement, setting us up for success at the state and federal level. And, occupying the important lane of bipartisanship that allows folks from all walks of life to find their place in our movement as we work together towards protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination.

LAB: I think everyone understands the importance of bipartisanship in getting anything done – especially advancing non-discriminations laws. But Trump has turned the Republican Party into a white national cult and therefore anyone who identifies as “right of center” Republican is “suspect” in today’s environment. How do you work with the Republicans on your team/board to advance LGBT equality?

DAVIS: There are so many polarizing debates in our nation today and certainly LGBTQ issues often fall along party lines. But LGBTQ equality is not a red or blue issue; it is a human issue. Working in a truly bipartisan manner isn’t easy or popular, but I think it’s incredibly important right now. Twenty-seven of the states without explicit LGBTQ protections are controlled by Republicans, and we can’t give up on those states. Gay elders, trans youth, and everyone in between need and deserve protections in their home states, and I don’t want to leave those in red or purple states behind.

Thankfully, what we see time and again is that as people are given the opportunity to get to know LGBTQ people and our families, they come to understand that we all want the same thing – to be able to go about our daily lives without the fear of discrimination or violence.

This shared understanding through human connection is true of people from all across the political spectrum, and we believe everyone deserves the opportunity to get to know us and hear our stories. That’s where most of our work with Republicans begins – by sharing our stories and extending an opportunity for shared understanding.

I’d also make the distinction that we don’t work with either political party writ large – we work with individuals and institutions who support common-sense, fair-minded, and comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people, and there are many many folks who fit that description who occupy space on both sides of the aisle and in between.

LAB: Honestly, you seem to be taking over for the anemic NGLTF (Task Force) – with your state and local training and LGBT Academy (re Creating Change), etc. Are you just a more savvy, more geographically spread out, more digitally-focused Task Force?

DAVIS: I have tremendous respect for the work of our national partners and have been honored by the welcome I have received in this new role. We certainly work with state partners and state-based campaigns from coast to coast and provide an extensive amount of in-kind communications and digital support. FFAA has learned we can be most effective by listening to the expertise of local leaders, sharing best practices we’ve learned across many campaigns, and supporting them with the resources needed to succeed, including financial investments to support critical but often under-resourced areas of work like field organizing, messaging research, and compelling digital programs.

We want to do what we can to strengthen the LGBTQ movement and set the stage for federal nondiscrimination protections by investing resources in existing work and bringing together the broad, persuasive movement of allies we’ll need to win.
To donate, go freedomforallamericans.org/LosAngeles.

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