|by Stefani Deoul|
|Cathy NelsonOur Local/Worldwide Hero
The "Cathy" that Cyndi Lauper is proudly introducing to the world would be Cathy Nelson, who along with being Vice President, Development and Membership for the Human Rights Campaign, is also our own weekend/holiday/any chance she can neighbor and friend here in Rehoboth Beach. And if you've watched CNN at all lately, you may also know Cathy just received a promotion of sorts; she is now a bona fide hero.
It all began when Ms. Lauper was approached by CNN and asked, "Who is your everyday, unsung hero?" Her answer was Cathy Nelson.
To say Cathy was stunned would be an understatement. Even if Cyndi wanted to honor the HRC and its work, there were surely others who might be a better choice for this honor. Ms. Lauper wasn't hearing any of it. Cyndi reminded Cathy that the postcards, the boothsthe True Colors Tour and its passionate, wildly successful ground roots campaign for passage of a hate crimes billyou're the one I worked with. You're the one who educated me.
So the CNN Heroes Producers phoned and interviews were set and it was hard to believe how far Cathy Nelson has come since her childhood in Bishop Hill, Illinoispopulation 200. And to be specific, not only is the population a mere two hundred or so people, they are pretty much two hundred or so Swedish descent people. Bishop Hill happens to be the oldest Swedish community in the United States. An area of enough well preserved homogeneity that a number of years ago when the King of Sweden visited the United States, his itinerary consisted of New York, Los Angeles, Chicagoand Bishop Hill.
Becoming a GLBT Activist wasn't even a thought as Cathy grew up and began her exploration of adulthood. She attended Northern Illinois University, graduated with a BA in Education and was "all set to take a job at a suburban high school." Right before her best laid plans took hold a friend phoned, Eastern Airlines was holding open interviews for flight attendants.
Cathy had always had a burning desire to get out and see the world so she decided, why not and went for an interview. With a rationale we can all admire, she reasoned she could work for the airline for oh, one year, travel everywhere and then settle down to become that low-paid but life-rewarded teacher.
Once again, those best laid plans had other ideas. Working for Eastern Airlines turned out to be an easy, addictive work style. Work three days a week, then jump on a plane and travel about. It was the glory days of flying and Cathy Nelson was relishing her life.
However the Eastern Airlines strike of 1989 would begin another unplanned twist in her journey. One of Cathy's friends decided to run for the presidency of the union and Cathy agreed to become her campaign manager. When Frank Lorenzo bought Eastern, he asked Cathy to become the DC liaison for the AFL-CIO. The labor work brought with it a whole new rolodex and into that rolodex, Cathy Nelson and Molly Yard crossed paths and exchanged cards. Molly was the brand new president of NOW and her first speaking engagement was at a labor rally in Florida. It was during this period that Robert Bork was nominated for the Supreme Court and the March for Women's Lives was held on the Mall. Cathy's political world was burgeoning and fighting for equality was now firmly set in her life's path.
When the Eastern Airlines strike was called off, Cathy was introduced to Steve Van Deen at HRC and the proverbial new day had begun. Cathy Nelson began working for the HRC, tasked with increasing the group's membership. At that time the HRC had 12,000 members. Today it has more than 725,000.
In the year 2006, according to the FBI, more than 1 in 6 hate crimes were committed against GLBT individuals. That was an astounding eighteen percent rise over the previous year.
And perhaps a portion of that number reflects just how much groundwork has been laid and how well positioned the LGBT community is to realize real gains and real progress in its quest for equality. It is, as Cathy notes, the civil rights issue of our generation. So as we battle, these are the steps Cathy asks each of you to take:
1. Go up to the HRC website. Sign up for e-mails and action alerts. Stay informed.
2. Get involved locally. Bring your voice. Get down to CAMP Rehoboth and see where you might help.
3. The closet is our biggest obstacle. Come out to friends, to family.
So when you're strolling about town, keep an eye out for Cathy and her partner, Cindy. You might spot them dining at The Cultured Pearl or ordering a Peanut Butter Ice Cream Cone at Kohr's. Their love of Rehoboth Beach is a reflection of Cathy's small town roots and the ideology that has defined her success, "Growing up in a small community, people get engaged. When you have problems and issues people simply step up and get involved." So if you spot them over at Tower Beach watching a sunset, tell them you've been to the HRC website and signed up for action alertsit matters. Cathy isn't just Cyndi Lauper's hero and she isn't just featured as one of CNN's heroesshe's our hero and helping keep her that way is a privilege and a priority.
CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute will air on Thanksgiving, Nov. 27, at 9 p.m. (ET/PT). Hosted by CNN anchor Anderson Cooper from the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, the program will air globally on CNN, CNN International and CNN en Espaol. Although it will not directly feature Cathy Nelson, it will feature ordinary citizens accomplishing extraordinary deeds. Celebrities who have participated in this year's initiative through interviews about their own heroes include: Mark Cuban, Dana Delany, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, Wynton Marsalis, Shaquille O'Neal, Susan Sarandon and Gretchen Wilson. These segments will air weekly through the Thanksgiving weekend."It's important that everyone has an understanding that discrimination is happening every single day against a certain segment of society. And that's just wrong." Cathy Nelson, CNN Hero.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 18, No. 15 November 21, 2008