Outstanding Virginians: Paul Prettyman and Kelly Schlageter
Equality Virginia, VA’s leading voice for the LGBT community, holds their annual Commonwealth Dinner every spring. Part of the event includes honoring a number of LGBT Virginians, OUTstanding Virginians, for the work they do in communities around the state. The following is a profile of one of this year’s honorees.
Click here to get tickets to EV’s Commonwealth Dinner this year, April 18th. Read on to learn more about what makes these Virginians so OUTstanding:
When Paula Prettyman and Kelly Schlageter founded Equality Fairfax in 2001, they wanted to make a difference for the community and also for themselves. The couple, who met at USA TODAY (Kelly in advertising, Paula in technology), were reeling from the sudden death of Kelly’s sister at age 32. They felt a strong need for a sense of community, and, “being advocacy minded” in Paula’s words, they soon realized they wanted to build support for LGBT issues.
The couple traveled to Richmond to attend a board meeting of Virginians for Justice. There, they met other activists from Northern Virginia who arranged a follow-up meeting closer to home. Kelly and Paula subsequently met Jeff DiGregorio, Jay Fisette and others from the Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance (AGLA), who encouraged them to start organizing in Fairfax County. Following a model successfully developed in Arlington, Paula and Kelly decided the Fairfax group would combine social events, education opportunities and political outreach.
Fairfax County (population ca. 1.1 million) is geographically spread out. “Getting anywhere in traffic takes you 45 minutes,” says Kelly. It is correspondingly diverse, culturally and politically, with some parts urban and ‘blue’ and some decidedly ‘red.’ “I think of it as the frontier between Arlington and the rest of Virginia,” says Paula.
As guests of AGLA at the 2002 Pride event in Washington, DC, Paula and Kelly stood in the midway asking participants if they were ”From Virginia? Arlington or Fairfax?” If people said Fairfax, they were asked to sign up for the new group and received an invitation to a picnic. “We left with 100 names and emails,” says Kelly. One month later, 150 people attended the first Fairfax event. Soon, the annual summer picnic became a community highlight and a must-stop on politicians’ schedules. Part of Equality Fairfax’s appeal was that the events were very family friendly. People brought their kids, and this “opened a lot of politicians’ eyes,” says Paula.
As the political climate changed, Equality Fairfax grew increasingly able to mobilize its members. While simultaneously arranging happy hours and dances, Equality Fairfax worked to implement real policy and legislative change. They met with the police department and members of the Fairfax Board of Supervisors, and they began applying real pressure on elected officials. In 2004, when the infamous “HB751” legislation passed, prohibiting any legal relationship between two same-sex people, Equality Fairfax led a coalition that coordinated a demonstration and drew over a thousand protestors and several TV crews. As a result of this visibility and advocacy, several politicians previously opposed to nondiscrimination efforts began participating in candidate forums and town hall meetings. Some eventually modified their positions.
In 2006, Equality Fairfax joined efforts of the Commonwealth Coalition (led by OUTStanding Virginian Claire Guthrie Gastañaga) to defeat the “marriage amendment.” Having been married in Canada in 2004, the couple had a very personal stake in the outcome. “We wanted Virginians to recognize that love is love,” says Paula.
At the end of 2006, their twin daughters, Kate and Betty, were born, and—like many new parents—Kelly and Paula began focusing on the future spiritual needs of their family. Additionally, they felt that connecting with like-minded people in a faith community could help the girls deal with any hardships that having two mommies might cause. The pair joined the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax (UUCF), where Kelly now serves as Lay Minister for Caring and Wellness. They are also members of Equality UUCF, a group at UUCF that in 2013 coordinated a 300-person demonstration at a courthouse in Fairfax County.
In 2013, Paula joined the Board of Directors of People of Faith for Equality in VA (POFEV), an interfaith network of clergy and lay people working for equality for LGBT Virginians. Paula notes with pride that POFEV has just changed their marriage equality slogan from “Witness for Love” to “Virginia Is for Loving—Amen!” in light of marriage equality becoming settled law in the state. “It is time for congregations to minister in ways that fully embrace the needs of all members, including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender,” says Kelly.
Everything is working out well for Kelly and Paula. They celebrated their tenth wedding anniversary last year. Paula became the girls’ legal second parent in 2010 (though they had to move temporarily to Maryland because of Virginia’s restrictive laws on adoption by same-sex couples). The girls are beginning to relate to their mothers’ work. One of them recently connected the political organizing Kelly and Paula do with the Civil Rights movement they were learning about in school. “Mom, you’re doing what Martin Luther King did!” she exclaimed.
It pleases Paula and Kelly that they were nominated for the OUTStanding Virginian award as a couple. Kelly observes that they have been successful as advocates, organizers, and now parents for one chief reason: “We enjoy working together and balance each other well. Our combined skills make a complete package.”
Equality Virginia is the leading statewide, non-partisan advocacy, outreach and education organization seeking equality for LGBT Virginians. EV believes in a truly inclusive Commonwealth where all are equally welcomed and valued, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
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