The Power of Lobbying: The Story of a Movement for Gay Rights and Policies

words Al Woods


Over the years, Christopher Pepin-Neff’s efforts have influenced many others to join the cause of lobbying for LGBTQ rights and policies.

Following Frank Kameny’s footsteps, Christopher Pepin-Neff has attracted the support of influential politicians through rigorous lobbying for gay rights and policies. His efforts in the LGBTQ movement has led to reforms and changes to the discourse of policies governing the lives of many in the LGBTQ community. The decisions made behind closed doors need advocates to press the case for LGBTQ rights and policies. Pepin-Neff is emblematic of a shift where there are now voices who understand what it means to identify as an LGBTQ person in today’s world and what needs to be done on organizational and governmental levels.

Pepin-Neff has actively contributed to many LGBTQ causes, including the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Log Cabin Republications, Gertrude Stein Democrats, and The Gay News Network. He is the founder of Q Street, an association of LGBTQ lobbyists and public policy advocates. He was also the former president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA).

In 2002, Neff became the first lobbyist who worked with the Servicemembers of Legal Defense Network to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” It was a policy that came into effect in 1993 during the Clinton administration, stating that gay, lesbian, and bisexual Americans could serve in the military as long as they keep their sexual identity a secret. However, in reality, this was a total ban on service. Pepin-Neff and others argued that this policy does not do anything to resolve the centuries-long prejudice against the LGBTQ community but simply silences them and pushes them into secrecy. Then, Barack Obama announced he would support the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell during his election campaign. It was a victory for the LGBTQ community and their rights. In an interview, Pepin-Neff said:

“It makes a huge difference. Not needing to lie every day as a condition of service and adding that additional pressure to you if you’re being deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, you know, and being to write a note to your loved one.

Under the previous policy, if you wrote a note to a loved one from Afghanistan, that could be a cause for discharge. Now, you’ll be protected, and you’ll have support mechanisms from the military.”

As an activist, Neff works on many different mediums, such as gay rights, transgender job rights, LGBTQ awareness campaigns, and efforts to discuss LGBTQ issues on a national scale. He began to participate in public events and activities to raise awareness for transgender rights. It is a subject that does not receive enough public attention, so Neff brought these issues to the forefront and has helped organize congressional staff briefings to address trans issues. As part of his work, Pepin-Neff has centered trans lives in this work. He met many transgender activists and talked to them about the problems they face daily. He realized that the policies are as worse, if not more, for the transgender community as they are for other gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. 

In 2003, Pepin-Neff founded an LGBTQ lobbying association named Q Street in Washington D.C. The association’s focus is to advance LGBTQ rights through the influence of lobbyists and government affairs professionals. Public relations firm DDB Issues and Advocacy organized the launch event. The event had more than 25 K Streeters attendees. This was part of a wave of organizing, with the Senate (GLASS Caucus) and House staff association. Q Street made headlines as they opened and established several news ways for LGBTQ lobbyists to operate. People who used to work for LGBTQ equality rights also connected with LGBTQ lobbyists quickly through Q Street. Q Street’s most successful point was its free entry because some associations at the moment were charging a membership fee.

Pepin-Neff has also served as treasurer for the Equality Federation. He has organized meetings for LGBTQ issues to raise awareness. These include issues related to same-sex marriage, transgender civil rights, and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He has been working on building awareness by using digital media and platforms to develop anti-discrimination and sympathetic political policies. He started campaigning on digital platforms and the internet for LGBTQ rights. His primary focus has been to engage people in discussing transgender civil rights and same-sex marriages. The campaigns were marketed well, and his thoughts reached people. In one of his campaigns, he said: “He cannot forget the torture, pain, pressure, threats, and humiliation LQBT people go through.” The topic of gay and lesbian marriages was challenging for him to put in front of mass media and digital audiences because of the prevailing prejudices towards same-sex marriages. He helped plan a campaign in a manner that received significant coverage in newspapers and among people. 

Besides being an LGBTQ activist, Pepin-Neff has published numerous papers on the intersection between emotional, political phenomena and public policy. In many cases, he illustrates this by looking at the relationship between humans and sharks. He wrote a paper that discussed the influence of the film “Jaws” on government policies regarding shark attacks and the public perception of sharks and named it The Jaws effect. He researched public perceptions of sharks and argued that they are often influenced by movies like the 1975 Hollywood film Jaws. He is the first person to have completed a Ph.D. in the “politics of sharks.” He was featured in Washington Post, The Guardian, National Geographic, and many other sources for his work on shark bite incidents, government, and public policies. He was one of the three hundred international scientists who submitted a report to the Environmental Protection Agency that white sharks’ culling should be banned. He proposed that more authentic reporting of shark-human interaction and should attack should be classified in stages. As of 2020, Neff is a senior lecturer of public policy at the University of Sydney. He is an author of the book, Flaws: Shark Bites and Emotional Public Policymaking and several journal articles and book chapters related to public policy matters.


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