U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan played the role of talk show host on Thursday when he interviewed famed Proposition 8 plaintiff Kris Perry on the dual topics of LGBT equality and early childhood education.
The interview took place before an audience of about 150 people assembled at the department’s headquarters in Southwest Washington as part of an LGBT Pride Month event sponsored by the department’s LGBT employees group.
“This is a really meaningful day,” Duncan told the Blade after the event. “We try to do whatever we can just to celebrate the wealth of talent and the wealth of diversity we have here,” he said in referring to the department’s employees.
Perry became a nationally recognized figure as the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that challenged the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8, a ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage in the state.
Shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Prop 8 last year Perry and her partner of more than 10 years, Sandy Stier, married in their home state, with LGBT activists joining them and their four sons in celebrating the victory.
Although the spotlight on Perry has focused on her marriage equality efforts her career has long involved advocacy for early childhood education programs. She currently serves as executive director of the First Five Years Fund, a national advocacy organization that lobbies for federal funding for early childhood education programs.
In response to a question from Duncan at Thursday’s Pride event, Perry pointed to what she sees as similarities in the impact of marriage equality and early childhood education programs on the lives of children.
“There are so many similarities in terms of why high-quality early education is the same as kids feeling like they have a family that is equal,” she said. “When you are told by your government that your family isn’t equal it changes your self-image, your self-esteem and it creates a ceiling for you that is very hard to push through,” Perry said.
“When you aren’t allowed to get a high-quality early education a similar ceiling is placed on top of you,” she said. “It is very hard to reach your full potential. It’s very hard to compete … And I really believe that family diversity and the early education opportunity – you create opportunities or you take them away,” she said.
“And those are life-changing, life-altering decisions that we make in the society that limit potential.”
After asking Perry several questions, Duncan opened the discussion to questions from the audience of mostly DOE employees. The questions were divided almost equally between LGBT equality issues and education issues, including early childhood education.