For Lincoln candidate, gay rights debate hit close to home

Deena Winter
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Apr 15, 2014 8:52 AM
For Lincoln candidate, gay rights debate hit close to home

By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog

LINCOLN, Neb. – Last week, about 100 supporters of a bill banning job discrimination based on sexual orientation gathered around a podium in the capitol rotunda, with several sporting yellow “LOVE” T-shirts.

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SPEAKING OUT: Taylor Brooks speaks in favor of a bill that would have banned job discrimination based on sexual orientation, as his mother, Patty Pansing Brooks (in black and green) looks on.

After a Lincoln senator, mayor, councilman and minister spoke in favor of the bill, a preppy, 24-year-old law student stepped up to the microphone, and said he was Taylor Brooks — “a gay Nebraskan through and through.”

After law school, he’ll be entering the work force in 1.5 years, he said, and “I want to go to work and be judged on the work I do.”

“I don’t want to be judged on who I love,” he said.

Standing a few feet behind him, Patty Pansing Brooks beamed, smiled and clapped. The Lincoln woman is running for a seat in the Legislature. She is also Taylor’s mother.

And while her son may have been the picture of poise and confidence that day, it’s only been a couple of years since he came out as a gay young man, she said later. He’d applied for an internship at the U.S. embassy in Thailand, but initially didn’t show his parents the essay he’d written as part of the application. It was about realizing he was gay while living in Vietnam.

He hadn’t shown the essay to his parents because he figured they might try to dissuade him from writing about that topic – but he also knew former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton encouraged hiring people in the LGBT community. He landed the internship.

When the Fulbright scholar was accepted to law schools in D.C. and elsewhere, his parents wanted him to come home to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, but they were nervous, Pansing-Brooks said. Lawyers themselves, they knew he’d get a good education at UNL, but thought other communities might be more accepting of a young gay man.

Taylor wasn’t as worried.

It’s not that Pansing-Brooks wasn’t familiar with the LGBT community – her law firm has represented a lot of people in the community for years in part due to the knowledge they gained after her nephew came out in the 1980s.

It’s just that her mother’s instincts kicked in, and she worried about her son’s safety.

“I was concerned when he came back for his safety — for his ability to find employment. And I was concerned about how he might be treated at the University of Nebraska,” she said. “The worry as a parent is, is he going to be safe? Is he going to be mistreated? Is he going to be given a fair shake?”

He has met discrimination on the street with friends but overall he’s been embraced and had a “wonderful positive experience” at UNL, she said.

She gets concerned when she hears comments from Nebraska lawmakers on the floor that she feels lack knowledge and compassion.

“I want them to be more embracing,” she said.

Pansing Brooks is running as a Democrat in District 28 against Republican Dallas Jones and Independent Bob Rauner for the seat now held by Democrat Bill Avery. She was co-chair of the county Republican Party in the 1980s, but switched parties in the 2000s, in small part after seeing how people in the LGBT community were treated.

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Patty Pansing Brooks

Having her son come out as gay hasn’t changed her position on gay rights issues, she said.

“It hasn’t changed my opinion or my stance except that I am more adamant because I am his mother. I see that change needs to happen for a wonderful group of people that can contribute to this state and its economy. For me, it’s an economic, a moral and a parental issue.”

Taylor said during the capitol rally that many in the LGBT community dream of leaving Lincoln for cities like New York City or Chicago, where they believe they’ll be more accepted. He urged lawmakers to send a message that “Nebraska is open” and “committed to fairness.”

Hours later, the gay rights bill died — not because a majority of lawmakers didn’t support it, but because a filibuster was launched, requiring a super-majority to cut off debate. Supporters needed 33 of the 49 lawmakers to vote with them; they got 26. Still, some saw progress in those numbers.

Pansing Brooks taped the debate on the gay rights bill, and was pleased to hear comments from people whose views have changed over the years.

“That’s a clear indication that this issue will no longer be an issue in the very near future,” she said. “I think we’ll look at it and say, ‘What were we thinking? Where was our humanity? Where was our compassion?’ ”

Contact Deena Winter at deena@nebraskawatchdog.org.

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